Auburn Spotlight, Sarah Zohdy

My approach is to encourage creativity and critical thinking skills in my students.
Sarah Zohdy
Assistant Professor, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences

Spotlight Interview

Sarah Zohdy is an assistant professor of disease ecology in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. Her research interests include parasite-host dynamics, primatology, wildlife disease ecology, vector-borne diseases, public health and conservation biology. This summer, Zohdy led a student team to investigate research sites in the rain forests of Madagascar for the team's research project, "Can Conservation Improve Human Health? Vector Ecology and Transmission Dynamics in Humans and Wildlife in Andasibe, Madagascar, using Association Mitsinjo as a model." Association Mitsinjo is a community driven conservation effort in the rain forests of Madagascar with missions dedicated to wildlife conservation, education and reforestation.

Tell us about your background and what inspired your research pursuits/vision.

My background is as diverse as my current research interests. As a child, I was always interested in diseases. I wondered why one kid absent from school with a fever would escalate to five or six kids by the end of the week. I used to read books about Sir Alexander Fleming (discoverer of penicillin) and play with a toy microscope that my older sister had abandoned, and I became obsessed with the idea of pursuing bacteriology (which wasn't even a degree option). A few years later, when I read the book "Hot Zone," my dream was to be an epidemiologist at the CDC, to have the opportunity to work on controlling and preventing emerging epidemics in humans. To pursue that passion, I began my studies in microbiology and molecular genetics with an interest in infectious diseases. The zoonotic diseases (of animal origin) interested me the most, so I began my graduate research on mouse lemurs of Madagascar.  After my Ph.D., I realized that parasite ecology in lemurs and emerging infectious diseases in humans were deeply connected in Madagascar and that to truly understand the ecological drivers of infectious diseases, an integrative approach was necessary. That's when I began my One Health research (based on the idea that human health, animal health, and environmental health are all intrinsically linked) at Emory University and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and now at Auburn.

What impact would you like to make with your research?

Ultimately my goal is to limit the harm of disease and support the development of healthy humans, animals and environments by taking an integrated/comprehensive approach and/or examining the links between all three. And to help protect threatened species in a way that benefits wildlife conservation and human health simultaneously. I would also like to expose my students to the joy of research and scientific discovery in the amazing world around us.

What is your approach to being a mentor/advisor for your students?

I want to provide them with a toolkit for taking on the world and making it a better place - no matter what career path they choose.

Since coming to Auburn in 2015, how has your teaching and research evolved?

Joining the Auburn team has really allowed me to branch out and explore the interdisciplinary intricacies of disease ecology, using a model system (mouse lemurs) as a potential teaching model. Through interactions with faculty from all over campus, and my joint appointment with the College of Veterinary Medicine, I have been able to maximize my research focus and apply it in a number of disciplines. With my field site in Madagascar, I hope that these collaborations will continue to expand. To me, teaching extends far beyond the classroom walls. I have a passion for mentoring students, and I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to mentor undergraduate students from the moment I arrived at Auburn. These interactions have been especially valuable to me and have helped shape my approach to educating and mentoring students going forward.

What are your long term goals at Auburn?

I want to continue to lead the research that I am passionate about, and to foster this passion in the minds of students domestically and internationally, in the hopes of applying our research findings in a way that make the world a healthier place for human and non human animals.