Christine Leopold
Christine Leopold does research at Harvard on healthcare policy. © Private

Having worked for several years at a scientific institution in the sphere of healthcare, I fancied a stint abroad. Prompted by a short stay at Harvard Medical School within an exchange programme during my doctoral studies, I decided to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship there. Upon completion of my PhD in 2014, I received the wonderful news that I had been accepted as a postdoc fellow at Harvard, which meant that my first one-and-a-half years would be paid for by Harvard. During that time I applied for an Erwin-Schrödinger grant which I actually received at the second try.

A focus on healthcare policy

Ever since coming to Boston I have greatly extended but also focused my research area. My work is devoted to analysing healthcare strategies designed to provide public funding for medications. This includes aspects such as the regulation of pharmaceutical products, reimbursement policies and an assessment of medicines from the point of view of health economics. Having concentrated mainly on Europe during my doctoral studies, my focus is now on the US healthcare system. – What a learning curve!

My personal brain gain

My knowledge of European healthcare systems – based on solidarity, public funding and state regulation – has been augmented by learning about the American system, which relies on free-market principles and a predominantly private healthcare system. The next logical step was to specialise my research on cancer therapies, since for most cancer patients here in the USA paying the cost of a cancer treatment they need out of their own pockets represents an enormous financial burden.

Cultural differences

There are a couple of big cultural differences that strike me in my daily work: in Austria, I often had the impression that it is hard for a young female academic like me to become established in the academic system. This was often due to rigid structures and hierarchies.

Here in Boston at Harvard University the opposite is the case. The professors I work with are easily accessible and always ready to provide good career advice. I feel enormously supported in taking my career forward. Something I miss here at the Department, however, is teamwork. Everyone is pursuing their research on their own. Although some exchanges do take place, they rarely lead to genuine co-operation.

A unique science environment

For a scholar, Boston is a unique place. There is a great variety of universities with a large number of international students. This may be the reason why most of my friends here are in fact from Europe, and they also work in research. While this is nice, given that we all struggle with similar problems such as publishing results or trying to get project funding, I would sometimes like to talk about other things that are important in life.

I have found this balance in a yoga community. Since I’m a passionate practitioner of yoga, I started training as a yoga instructor when I came here and have meanwhile completed my training. This has opened new doors and allowed me to meet wonderful people outside of the research environment.