Fiona Lo presenting her Ph.D. thesis at the American Meteorological Society annual conference.
Twenty years after getting her master’s, Fiona Lo returned to graduate school to work on her Ph.D. thesis, which she presented at the American Meteo¬rological Society annual conference in 2018. Credit: Fiona Lo
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Just like 60 million other people in the United States, Fiona Lo suffers from allergies. Having an interest in human health, she thought, “Well, I have allergies, what would help me?”

Lo uses her atmospheric science training to produce models that can forecast pollen concentrations. These models can help predict the start of the pollen season as well as particularly high pollen days, which can help determine when people should take allergy medications and how much they need. Her career helps her “do something that will help society,” said Lo, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington.

Yet despite her long-standing interest, her research combining climate and health “came about from a really long, convoluted path,” Lo said.

She actually started her academic career focusing on otherworldly systems. Lo completed her undergraduate degree in planetary sciences, and then she applied to graduate school to study atmospheric sciences. “I think I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” she said.

“It’s just good to follow your dream, even if sometimes your dream changes.”

After attaining her master’s degree, Lo worked as a research scientist for a slew of organizations—including NorthWest Research Associates and Cornell University, to name a few—but she always wanted to pursue her lifelong love of health. So after 20 years of working as a research scientist, Lo returned to graduate school once more.

“I enjoyed my time in graduate school a lot more the second time because it was driven by my own passion and interest,” she said.

While at the University of Washington, she created a machine learning pollen model and researched heat-related illnesses. She graduated with her Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences in 2020.

“It’s just good to follow your dream, even if sometimes your dream changes,” Lo said.

This profile is part of a special series in our August 2022 issue on science careers.

—Richard Sima (@richardsima), Science Writer

Citation: Sima, R. (2022), Fiona Lo: A “really long, convoluted path” to health, Eos, 103, Published on 25 July 2022.
Text © 2022. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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