Focus on Faculty
Christopher Whalen, the Ernest Corn Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology in the College of Public Health, helps his students develop a lifelong passion for learning and the capacity for critical thinking.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University, my M.D. degree from Case Western Reserve University and a master’s degree in epidemiology and biostatistics, also from Case Western.
I am currently the Ernest Corn Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and interim head of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics, part of the College of Public Health. I also hold the title of Distinguished Research Professor.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2008 to become part of the new College of Public Health. Being offered an endowed professorship was a critical factor in my decision to move from an institution where I had been for 28 years. This endowment was supported by the family of UGA Foundation trustee Sarah Corn Irby and has given me an identity on campus that is important to me. The resources available through the endowment also have allowed me to address humanitarian issues relating to my research in Africa.
What are your favorite courses and why?
My favorite course is “Infectious Disease Epidemiology,” which is offered to graduate students and is designed to show how epidemiology creates new knowledge and understanding of infectious diseases. I also like teaching “Advanced Methods in Epidemiology.”
What interests you about your field?
My research and education mission takes me to east Africa, where I study transmission dynamics and treatment strategies for tuberculosis. I have worked in this setting for more than 25 years and am committed to reducing global inequalities in health.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I developed a formal research and education collaboration with Makerere University in Uganda in 2008 that serves as a platform for my international activities. I developed the doctoral degree program in epidemiology that was approved in 2010 and was named a Distinguished Research Professor in 2012.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
The research and scholarship provide real examples for students in my classes. They can see how I use the material that I am teaching them. Teaching involves keeping up with the current methods and practices in the field, so teaching keeps me current with research methods.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope they develop a lifelong passion for learning and the capacity for critical thinking. I also hope that students who work closely with me learn how to form arguments and articulate them to others.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is one who is curious, motivated and independent.
Favorite thing to do on campus is…
… walk through the many quadrangles and gardens.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
… ride bicycles.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahnemann. Read it and you will know why it is a favorite of mine.
Proudest moment at UGA?
When I was awarded the Distinguished Professor award by David Lee, vice president for research.
(Originally published on Feb. 9, 2014)