Alumni Features Public Health

From OSU to the CDC

New alum, epidemiologist earns top fellowship

male student with glasses near river

By Kathryn Stroppel

John Paul (JP) Bigouette is not only one of Oregon State’s newest graduates, he’s also an epidemiologist who has landed his dream job. 

Fresh from earning his PhD in epidemiology from Oregon State, he’ll start a highly competitive two-year applied epidemiology fellowship with the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta this summer.  

According to the CDC, these 62 fellows are some of the first individuals it deploys to “investigate, identify the cause, rapidly implement control measures, and collect evidence to recommend preventive actions on public health outbreaks.” On-the-ground responses have included the ongoing COVID-19 response, Zika virus outbreak, and disaster relief following Hurricane Harvey. 

Each EIS officer is matched to a site and supervisor team to serve as mentors. This year, matches were virtual, and JP was matched to the CDC’s Center for Global Health, Global Immunization Division, Polio Eradication Branch, and Strategic Information and Workforce Development Branch in Atlanta.  

“I am excited to be working on the COVID response and polio eradication overseas,” JP says. “My dissertation sparked an interest in global health, and I am excited to learn how international support and research takes place.”  

JP’s long-term career goal is to remain an epidemiologist within a federal agency such as the CDC or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), focusing on community preparedness, disaster response and immunization practices.  

“My career path started by the simple notion of wanting to help people,” he says. “In undergrad, this was as an athletic trainer given my background and injuries as a student-athlete. Moving to my graduate work and exposure to public health, I realized I wanted to work on population-level health problems and have always loved the analytical side of my clinical practice, which led me to epidemiology.”  

man over looks scenic river
“I love epidemiology because you get to be a medical detective, moving the needle toward improving the health of individuals and populations. It is a great field to study if you like working with data in a collaborative environment and are curious about the who, what, where, when and why health problems occur.”

JP shared with his mentor, Associate Professor Jeff Bethel, that he wanted to be an epidemiologist at either the state or federal level. Jeff suggested he apply to the EIS fellowship given its heavy focus on applied epidemiology work through field investigations, surveillance system evaluation, public health communication and agency service.  

“In short, the EIS fellowship appeared to be the last piece of the puzzle for me to reach my career goals,” he says. “It is a program I am truly honored to be a part of – and during a pandemic, no less.”  

His education, he says, provided him with a toolbox of epidemiological and geospatial skills to succeed in his chosen career path.  

“All my epidemiology courses had some sort of deliverable, whether it be a poster, scientific manuscript, data analysis or professional presentation that allowed me to gain experience as an epidemiologist,” JP says. “More importantly, it was about the mentorship from my advisors, Jeff Bethel and Perry Hystad.

“Their mentorship and guidance built my confidence to explore a dissertation topic that was outside of my comfort zone at the start of the work and led me to become an independent researcher and epidemiologist.”