Welcoming Professor Bonnie Kaiser to UCSD and her Advice to Students

Interview conducted by Christine Wenzel (Global Health Major, GHP Student Rep, AMWHO President)

Professor Bonnie Kaiser joined us at UCSD in Fall 2018 as an Assistant Professor jointly appointed in the Department of Anthropology and Global Health Program. As an undergraduate at Notre Dame, Professor Kaiser studied Anthropology and Psychology. Immediately after undergrad, she attended graduate school at Emory University and received an MA in Anthropology, an MPH in Epidemiology, and a PhD in Anthropology. Her following postdoctoral fellowship at Duke focused on global mental health and implementation science.

Professor Kaiser will be teaching a Global Health Senior Capstone section this winter and spring quarter, as well as GLBH 148 in spring!

Could you tell me about your background and the path that has led you to global health and UCSD?

During both her undergraduate and graduate years, much of Professor Kaiser’s work overlapped with global health. She even participated in global health work in Kenya! As part of her MPH, Kaiser took part in a mental health project in Haiti and subsequently shifted her graduate work to that field site, but she returned to work in Kenya during her postdoc program. As a graduate student, Professor Kaiser did a lot of teaching and wanted to continue this in her career. This position at UCSD seemed like a perfect fit because of the combination of psychological anthropology and global mental health. Kaiser wasn’t always certain she wanted to remain in academia, but ultimately realized that she enjoyed the work of both research and teaching.

What motivates you, besides a simple interest in the topic?

Professor Kaiser is motivated by her excitement about the creation of knowledge and discovery, along with the desire for there to be utility in the research done, meaning that research should be applicable and helpful to people. These are two aspects that she would like students to consider because she hopes they are not only genuinely interested in their work, but are also thinking critically about how their pursuits can be most productive and helpful and to avoid unintended harm (especially if they plan to go into research and intervention design).

What is your current research on?

Professor Kaiser’s main two projects are in Haiti and Kenya. In Haiti, she works with a maternal care NGO to assess people’s perceptions of mental health, ascertain how one can best assess mental illness, and communicate this in medical/intervention settings. With help from the NGO, Kaiser is designing methods in which mental health can be better incorporated into current programs of maternal care. In Kenya, Professor Kaiser’s work focuses on the providers of mental health care and community support. These providers are typically lay people (recruited through churches) and are trained in family therapy. She works to understand how these providers bring their outside experience into their program duties (ex. using local metaphors to explain therapeutic concepts) and how those functions interact with the program (whether the functions are helpful or harmful).

What does the future of global health look like to you?

Kaiser hopes that the future of global health transitions from top-down, narrow interventions, to integrated and horizontal systems, placing a greater emphasis on capacity building and collaboration. She believes that a larger importance will be placed on climate change, as well as the inter-connectedness of health issues worldwide. Dr. Kaiser proposes that prevention will be emphasized as we begin to think more critically about the consequences of our actions.

Any advice for students?

Dr. Kaiser acknowledges that not all students want to dedicate their career to research, but advises that everyone should give it a chance because there’s a lot of value in understanding the process. It’s also important for capstone students to take their time and select a topic that they enjoy and are passionate about because they will be spending a lot of time with it.

What do you want your students to know about you?

Professor Kaiser would like her students to have a sense of her research and what topics she’s interested in, along with her background in different fields. Dr. Kaiser has worked in epidemiology, anthropology, global health, and implementation science (converting research into practice). So, even if students are not specifically working on mental health, she’s excited and prepared to assist them through the process, with whatever topic they may choose.