DHM

A Conversation with Priya Prasad, PhD, MPH | See previous interviews

Priya Prasad
Computational & Data Science Specialist

Priya Prasad

You recently earned your PhD. Would you describe that journey from then until now?

How I got there was important. I got my master's degree at Berkeley in 2005 and was excited to use it in the workforce. As time went on and I obtained more responsibilities and collaborated with more people at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia and other institutions, it became clear that I had my own research ideas and wanted to explore them. My research group was really supportive and my principal investigator suggested that, when I had my own research group, I might structure it a certain way. That was the first time that I realized that I might manage teams and be a principal investigator, to direct my own research. I began the process of applying and was lucky enough to find the perfect fit here at UCSF where I found amazing mentors like Ralph Gonzales, Nat Gleason, Lydia Zabloska, Maria Glymour, Bob Hiatt, and so many others with whom I could create a network and I felt like I’d found a home. I'd spent so much time in the workforce that I'd forgotten how to be a scholar. I had to relearn how to study and how to take tests, and I had the same anxiety about being a student as I had in the fourth grade. Although now, I approached being a student differently, more like a job. I was more structured. I worked 8 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, and did all my homework and tried to leave nothing for the evening and to keep weekends free. If I hadn't had that time in the workforce, I might not have known how to structure life in the second round of grad school. Then I threw all of it on its head by having a child in the middle of it all.

Tell me about your family, please. Where you were born and raised? Are you an only child or do you have siblings?

I am an only child who was born in New Jersey. When I was five, we moved to North Carolina, where we lived through my time in high school. Coming from the Northeast to the South with immigrant parents, was an experience. I was usually the only brown kid wherever we went. My parents met in the US through the personal ads in India Abroad, a way that many immigrants met in the 1970s. My dad has master's degrees in marketing and statistics, so it's nice that we understand each other's work. My mom is inspirational to me. She was always driven and finished her BA when I was in grade school, always taking a full course load. She was and is a great role model, and it is probably her example that gave me the strength to pursue my education and raise a child. We've always lived near each other and now, they live in California, in Livermore.

Prasad and family

How do you connect the dots between your professional and personal lives?

The most important thing that I remember is: when I come to work, the work I am doing is valued and valuable and is going to help somebody in the long run. I try very hard to separate and say when I'm home, I'm home, and put the work day behind me, because the moments that I spend with my son are so few and so precious during this time when he is growing and learning. It does feel that any contribution I make to my professional life when I am home is completely appropriate and in the end is going to further the cause of my profession. I really believe in what I do, that I made the right career choice and so it is easy to balance, relatively early in my career, and to be fulfilled. And that makes some of the hard days better.

How did you meet your husband? Can you share one treasured memory from your wedding?

I met my husband at work, at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, while he was finishing up his master's degree in Engineering. He was the one single guy among many women who wanted to set him up with people in their lives, so I didn't pay him much attention. Our boss organized a group outing to a baseball game, not a sport I was interested in, and he framed the ballgame as a soap opera: who was having affairs with whom and imagining all sorts of scenarios. Our wedding was a traditional Indian wedding in the morning with a Western-style reception in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My treasured memory is the quiet time that we spent with the photographer in the middle of the crazy, on a hill overlooking the city.

Priya and husband

What TV show is your guilty pleasure? What is the fascination?

My guilty pleasure, hands down, is any Real Housewives. It is absolutely how I unwind. I think the fascination is that their lives are insane and whether it is real or manufactured insanity it doesn't matter to me. I always feel very Zen about my own life when I watch others' "crazy." It is a suspension of disbelief and it's fun to see the women dress up for each other, their hair and makeup and get-ups are so extreme. I find the drama absurd to watch. When I cannot turn my head off, like after my dissertation defense, I find that devoting an hour to any of The Real Housewives will do just that.

Who would be your first guest if you hosted your own talk show? Why and what would you want to know?

I would love to talk with Nancy Pelosi or Gavin Newsom, anyone in California leadership. I would want to know concrete strategies being employed to maintain democracy in our state. I don't know where to get real news anymore, so I would like to hear from our legislature.

What is your favorite parenting advice that you were given and is it still valid?

Your child will lead your parenting—you cannot force any strategy on a child. Their personality and constitution and disposition will guide how you parent. That understanding is liberating because there are so many books out there in an industry that often is regimented and tells people what to do and what not to do. Listening and trusting your kids, they know when they are ready to do something. Trusting that you and your child have a relationship that will guide you to the right strategy in the right time.

Time freezes for everyone but you for one day. What do you do?

Before I married and had a child, I would sleep late, go to the gym and spend a leisurely day, go to the pool and then come home, get all dressed and made up, and go out with friends to dinner and a movie. Now, it's rare to get a moment to take care of myself. For me now, time off is for mom things: doing laundry, dishes, or cleaning a closet. Real time off would be no time schedule, sleep late, and not be irresponsible, but just not be responsible for a little while.

Finish this sentence: "When people look at me, they would never guess that I . . . "

That I worked in a luggage store for six years and know all about ballistic nylon and carryon regulations. I loved selling luggage because it was usually for a fun reason that people would buy luggage to go somewhere exciting.

What do you "owe" to yourself?

Forgiveness, when things aren't going right or when I don't do the things that I've promised myself I would do, either as a parent or as a person. Also, mercy and respect.

Thank you, Priya. This has been my pleasure.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Priya's professional bio | See previous faculty interviews