February 2, 2021 – As a master’s student in biostatistics at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Alma Fredriksson has helped build prediction models for maternal health, analyzed the relationship between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease, and co-chaired the department’s Master’s Student Committee. In a recent interview, Fredriksson discussed the appeal of public health and how she once helped set a world record for hugging.
I grew up in Stockholm and moved to the U.K. to do my undergraduate at Imperial College London. I’ve always really enjoyed math so I majored in math, which in the U.K. system meant that literally all my classes were focused on math and statistics.
As an undergrad, I did an internship in finance and was part of a data analytics team. I loved the team and the atmosphere, but the impact of the work was missing and I started to reconsider my path. I had a chance to do some research on air pollution data from seven European cities, and found it an interesting and useful way to apply my love of statistics. Since I had also always been interested in medicine, I started looking into biostatistics.
When I started at Harvard Chan School I expected that my classmates would all be high achieving, very talented, and very competitive. And they are high achieving and very talented, but it’s not a competitive environment and that surprised me. There’s a lot of collaboration and everyone has different strengths that they bring to a team. I’m often on teams with classmates who have medical degrees, and I learn so much from them. And in turn, I can help them with the more quantitative and structural aspects of the work. It’s a great way to learn.
What I love about public health is how nuanced it is and how many aspects there are to the field. There are medical considerations, social considerations, political considerations, and it’s crucial to have diverse teams when working on public health interventions. The other thing I find so appealing is that if you put the time and work in, there are so many opportunities at the School to truly make a difference, which I find really encouraging.
One thing people might not know about me is that while an undergrad, I was part of a group that set the Guinness World Record for the most international group hug. We had approximately 100 people representing about 60 countries. I’m a big hugger, so it was great.
One thing I love about Boston is that you get beautiful versions of all four seasons. It’s clear when it’s winter, spring, summer, and fall. I experienced a lot of Swedish winters growing up, and they tend to be very long and very dark. But I’d say Boston gets more snow, it’s just in a more compressed timeframe.
The last thing I watched on Netflix was The Queen’s Gambit. It was fantastic. I think it’s great to see successful women who are good at chess and math. We need more of those.
One book I wish everyone would read is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It really made me think, both about how privileged we are to be here today and what our responsibilities are as humans.
The best way to unwind is to exercise and get outdoors. I recently hiked Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire for the first time, which was super nice.
photo: courtesy of Alma Fredriksson