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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Former NIH Postdoc Also a STEM Ambassador

Taaffe in green protective lab smock smiles in science labroom.

Not so long ago, Dr. Jessica Taaffe was an NIAID postdoc.

Dr. Jessica Taaffe worked as a postdoc in Dr. Patrick Duffy’s Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology at NIAID from 2011 to 2014.

Currently an independent global health and science consultant, she’s also an IF/THEN ambassador and most recently has been working with the World Health Organization and EpiPointe on pandemic threat projects, including SARS-CoV-2. 

At IF/THEN’s initial summit, the ambassadors learned they were going to have their statues made. It was natural for Taaffe both to stand up for STEM and be somewhat center stage during a global health threat.

Taaffe alongside her plastic statue

Recently Taaffe found herself cast in plastic the National Mall alongside other ambassadors for women in STEM.

“I was always interested in science one way or another, but I made the decision to pursue a research career in infectious diseases during the first SARS pandemic,” Taaffe recalled. “I was a college junior taking a virology class, learning about the biology of viruses, including coronaviruses. At the same time, I saw in real time the global health impact that an emerging virus could have, which went beyond its impact on the body. I was fascinated by viruses and infectious diseases and I knew that I wanted to focus on them as a career.”

Her years at NIH prepared her well for the opportunities that were in her future.

Taaffe speaks from NIH podium with seminar title slide projected on screen behind her

As an NIAID postdoc, Taaffe speaks at the first global health interest group symposium.

“I was a postdoctoral research fellow and my project focused on severe malaria in monkeys using P. coatneyi in rhesus macaques to understand the etiology, presentation and pathogenesis of severe malaria,” she said. “I led this project using my background doing a similar type of work from my Ph.D. with SIV in macaques. The work was clinically, immunologically and pathology focused. During my postdoc I also founded and led NIH’s Global Health Interest Group, including holding its first annual symposium, which continues and thrives today.”

Taaffe later returned to NIH as an NIAID contractor (2016-2021), leading outreach initiatives for the TB Portals, a data science and sharing program. She offers this advice to like-minded young people.

Toddler girl smiles widely in front of statue.

Taaffe’s daughter delights in discovering a mommy statue.

“If you’re passionate about something, go after it, even if there isn’t an obvious path for you,” she said. “Be open to new opportunities and what you can learn from them.

"Build a strong professional network, especially among your peers," she concluded. "It is my similarly minded friends and colleagues that have helped me through my most challenging professional moments. Directly engage with relevant professional communities to learn and create a place for yourself. Develop excellent science communication skills—this has been a key reason for success in my career.”

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