Leah Vincent

photo of Leah Vincent

  • BA in Microbiology (2003)
  • Health Scientist Administrator at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
  • joined Miami's NROTC program as midshipman and led 2 different divisions on 2 naval warships
  • Spent a semester at Miami's Luxembourg campus

My Profession

"I attended Miami on a Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship and received my BA in microbiology in 2003. I now hold a PhD in Emerging Infectious Diseases from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD and served for two years as a Presidential Management Fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

"I am now a Program Officer in the Enteric and Sexually Transmitted Infections Branch of the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at NIAID. I manage the basic research portfolio for sexually transmitted infections, which encompasses between 80-100 grants from investigators all over the United States and around the world. I believe that protecting women's health and fertility are critical to a healthy society and have shaped my career to reflect these values. I am extremely interested in scientific communication and public outreach and have conducted scientific writing workshops in Liberia as part of a NIAID-led team, and in Uzbekistan as an Embassy Science Fellow with the Department of State. Additionally, I served as a mentor for the MD Girls in Technology program for high school students.

"My work includes a wide variety of duties related to the administration of a large research grants program, covering both bacterial and viral pathogens. Additionally, I work collaboratively with the World Health Organization to streamline activities related to vaccine development for sexually transmitted infections, with a goal of decreasing the time a vaccine spends in the pipeline between development and implementation.

"I believe that my unique life experience as a woman in the military and as a scientist, my dedication to public service, and my experience working in the field of women's health and serving as a mentor to young women have all contributed to a successful career."

My Miami Experiences

"In high school, I competed successfully through the state level of the science fair on a project that involved listening for radio waves from space using a radio telescope I built at home. I was fascinated by the signals I could receive from the far reaches of space, but I also discovered over time that while I loved science, the physics that formed the basis for the project wasn't where my passion was. When I looked into majors at Miami, microbiology caught my eye. It wasn't looking into the far reaches of space, but rather into a world up close but wholly invisible to the naked eye. I had no experience with microbiology in high school, but from my first class at Miami, I was hooked by this unseen dimension of biological diversity.

"While my undergraduate independent research focused on environmental microbiology, my senior capstone project examined the role that access to obstetric and gynecologic health care plays in the lives of rural disadvantaged women in Kenya. Between those two differing but critical academic experiences, I knew that I wanted to shape a career that combined microbiology and women's health.

"I can't speak highly enough of my time in the NROTC program at Miami. The camaraderie with other midshipmen provided the support I needed throughout my college career, and the pride and leadership displayed as a Miami midshipman shaped my love of both the unit and the university.

"In my third year of school, my now-husband encouraged me to figure out a way to participate in the Miami-Luxembourg program. This wasn't a simple endeavor, as the program is constructed to support liberal arts majors, but not necessarily those in the biological sciences. However, I was able to double up on courses in a way that allowed me to take a semester to study abroad. The international experience at the Luxembourg campus shaped and expanded my world-view in a way that continues today through a love of travel and a desire to engage with the wider world. It was probably the most important experience I had while studying at Miami.

"As an officer in the U.S. Navy, I led two different divisions on two separate warships while our nation fought one of the longest sustained wars in history. I was a 22-year old woman while my sailors ranged in age from 18 to 36, and all but one were men. They had significant technical experience on systems with which I had little familiarity, yet I was supposed to guide their career development and manage their daily work to carry out our ship's mission. It seemed daunting, but I thrived. My experience in the Navy taught me that leadership had far less to do with technical skills, and everything to do with the ability to relate to others and navigate the best path forward to ensure their success and advancement. That service has informed every career choice I have made since.

"When I returned to school to pursue my doctoral degree, I chose to work in a lab that focused on the bacterium that causes gonorrhea, a disease that disproportionately affects young, poor women of color. I felt that my work in that particular lab could best translate into meaningful research that would benefit society. During this time, I pursued experiences to remain connected to public service, such as becoming involved in legislative advocacy through participation in Capitol Hill days and serving as a mentor for young women in the D.C. area affiliated with Phi Beta Kappa."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"I chose a STEM major by majoring in microbiology, and I have leveraged it into a rewarding career as a scientific administrator. However, the most valuable part of my college education wasn't my excellent microbiology courses but Miami's liberal arts requirements, where I was able to take courses on art history and English literature. Milton's epic Paradise Lost remains one of my favorite pieces of literature, and it was my liberal arts education, not my degree, that introduced me to that beautiful work. My microbiology degree prepared me for my career, but my liberal arts education prepared me to be an active participant in the world.

"One of the traditional career paths of a microbiologist is to become a professor and develop your own research program. We need great scientists, and that is an excellent career path. However, I chose one of the many other paths one can take with a degree in microbiology. There are jobs in industry developing new drugs and vaccines, government jobs like mine working on aspects of science policy, and many other rewarding career paths in between. I think the most important thing for me was realizing that I didn't have to be a scientist in a lab making new discoveries to have a positive impact."

Advice to Students

"Don't be afraid to do something different. Your first job out of college doesn't need to be where you end up. However, having diverse life experiences is one of the critical elements to being the best possible candidate when you do apply for that dream job."

[August 2019]