Kristen Jones Campbell

2009 Major: Mathematics, minor in English

Currently: Health Program Specialist, Sigay Kauyagan, Philippines

How has being a Mathematics graduate from Duke helped shape your professional success?

"Being a math major gave me a broad intuition for numbers and logic and has taken me through multiple different disciplines in my work to this point. After graduation, I began in the actuarial leadership program of a major insurance company. Studying math at Duke gave me the skills to excel on the job and to teach myself the content for the various exams associated with that profession. I even took my first actuarial exam in probability while I was still a Duke student, which opened the door to an internship in the field that eventually led to my first job. After several years working at that company, I decided I wanted to change career direction, and I entered the Masters of Public Health Program at UC Berkeley, concentrating in health and social behavior. Having a degree from Duke helped me earn a spot in the program of my choice; while most of my peers came out of disciplines directly related to health and social behavior, I was making a career left turn, so I had to tell the story of why I too fit into public health coming from a math background. I was able to write about my analytic side (thanks Duke math!), my love of writing (minor in English), and my passion for health (as demonstrated through various volunteer work I did), and thankfully, someone decided to admit me! Ultimately, my math education from Duke enabled me to thrive in the public health program, from the direct use of math in statistics and epidemiology courses, to the analytic skills in health research, to the critical thinking skills of health program planning and evaluation. After holding a couple other public health jobs post graduation, I am now fulfilling my lifelong dream of working overseas, integrating health education, research, holistic health programs, and evaluation into the various activities of a nonprofit that aims to empower cultural communities in the Southern Philippines."

What advice would you give students in Mathematics?

"Firstly, I would advise students to persevere in their math degree, even when it gets hard. Secondly, I would encourage them to reach out to their professors and peers for help regularly; even though it takes effort and courage to talk to new people, they are a tremendous resource. I learned far more and did much better in the classes where I studied with my peers on a weekly basis than I did in the ones where I tried to go it alone. Thirdly, I would advise math students to continue taking social sciences classes and investing in your writing, creativity, and other abilities throughout your time at Duke and beyond; communication and other "soft skills" are essential in life and in nearly every job, and they can help you stand out in a pack of analytic folks. My first boss (in a financial-type job) said that the first thing he noticed about me was my ability to write clear, organized, and concise emails - I was surprised at how much value he placed on that! Fourthly, I would suggest looking at career options online and doing informational interviews in a variety of industries early on. There are tons of options for math majors, from academia to business to nonprofit - almost every industry needs people who are competent with numbers and can think analytically on a variety of issues. It was in a failed job interview that I learned I should take an actuarial exam while still in college in order to get an internship in an actuarial department - you can get tips like that for "free" by simply asking someone in the field about what they are looking for long before you apply. And finally, I would say that with a math degree from Duke, you do not have to feel stuck in any one job. If you try something out and later want to make a change, a math degree from Duke will give you options and a path forward, whether that's changing companies, changing industries, getting another higher education degree, or some other pursuit."

Kristen Jones Campbell
Health Program Specialist, Sigay Kauyagan, Philippines