Serge Olivier Kotchi
Medical geographer at the National Microbiology Laboratory
Public Health Agency of Canada in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec
While pursuing his doctorate in geography at Laval University, Serge Oliver Kotchi began working with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) as a medical geographer. Kotchi credits the multidisciplinary nature of geography for his seamless transition from academia to the workplace. Currently, Kotchi uses 2000 - 2016 Earth observation satellite images to estimate microclimatic indicators in Eastern Canada. The final estimates will aid future studies on the impacts of climate change on land cover, land use, vector-borne diseases, and the geographic spread of diseases from the south to the north. Ultimately, Kotchi's work will assist the PHAC to establish appropriate preventive and adaptive measures to support the Canadian population.
1. Can you describe your career path since graduation?
As a medical geographer, I work mainly on research and development projects. I found a posting for this position in 2009 on Jobs.ca. I was in the middle of my doctorate research and thought that this job resembled my doctorate work but on the public health side. The transition was very smooth. The objectives for understanding the epidemiology of climate-related crop diseases and understanding the epidemiology of human zoonotic diseases are very similar, if not the same. I found applications for
my doctorate studies in my work at the PHAC, and my time at the PHAC also heavily influenced my doctorate thesis.
2. In what ways did your program prepare you for your career?
For my doctorate thesis, I used earth observation data to develop agrometeorological indicators to support precision agriculture, crop disease management, and crop pest management. With PHAC, I revised the tools and indicators that I developed for agriculture to design similar approaches and methods for epidemiology.
As a geographer, I think I have the best profile to work in public health since I have a working knowledge of several domains. I regularly work with many specialists. I collaborate with epidemiologists, veterinarians, ecologists, and physicians, and my geography education prepared me well for that.
3. What skills do you wish you learned during your education that would have helped you in the job market today?
There are several skills that I am learning along the way, but I cannot pinpoint one thing that I wish I would have learned. I find that I am constantly in the process of acquiring new skills to further my current project, whatever that may be. For example, I took a course from NASA on how to apply NASA remote sensing tools and satellite data to public health.
4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?
When I applied to the PHAC, I did not have any work experience in public health. However, I knew that I could utilize my geography studies in this profession. At the interview, I highlighted how, as a geographer, I could help the vectors and water-borne diseases team at PHAC through my knowledge of how an environment interacts and contributes to the spread of diseases.
Geographers have a broad knowledge base and a unique skill set. I think a geographer can work in any field and with people from different backgrounds. Geographers have many options, and so there is no need to be fearful of a lack of career opportunities.