Non-Academic Career Paths: An Interview with Dr. Kate Wolin
The Physical Activity Special Interest Group (PA SIG) interviewed Kate Wolin, ScD about non-traditional career paths as a physical activity and obesity researcher. Dr. Wolin is a behavioral epidemiologist. Her academic research focused on the role of exercise and obesity in cancer risk reduction and survivorship. She is co-founder of two companies, Coeus Health and ScaleDown, and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University.
PA SIG: Tell us about Coeus Health and Scaledown.
Dr. Wolin: I founded ScaleDown with Drs. Gary Bennett and Dori Steinberg. We set about to build a commercial product based in theories of behavior change around the idea that came out of the WEIGH trial - that daily weighing is an effective intervention. As a team, we leveraged our different skills to build a product that is efficacious and highly scalable, having reached over 150,000 patients in 2 years.
With Coeus Health, the focus was on building something that wasn’t patient facing. In 2013, I learned to code. That experience led to conversations with Gary Bennett about how to use existing software models to disseminate behavioral science. Coeus Health focuses on how to take an intervention that works and make it into a software tool that someone else can pull into their existing platform.
PA SIG: What led you to found Coeus Health and ScaleDown?
Dr. Wolin: Academic research is set-up to focus on discovery, and not implementation. Implementation largely happens in the commercial world. I saw a disconnect between what we know about health behaviors and what is being done commercially. For something to be implemented, it must be scalable and cost-effective. We wanted to create something that delivers on reach and scalability so it is affordable and can be offered to a large number of people.
PA SIG: What influenced your decision to follow a non-traditional career path?
Dr. Wolin: I wanted to do something I did not think I could do in academia. I had a problem that I didn’t think I could solve in academia.
PA SIG: What challenges did you encounter when following a non-traditional career path?
Dr. Wolin: I had to let go of a lot of the assumptions about industry that I held/had been taught in my academic training. For example, I haven’t met a single person in the commercial world (including pharma) who isn’t committed to making people healthier. It pushed me to be open to listening and learning.
PA SIG: What are some key lessons learned throughout your career?
Dr. Wolin: One that's applicable regardless of whether you're in industry or academia is how much your team matters. The culture that you create in your lab or workplace and the people you bring in really make a difference in your success. ScaleDown’s success is attributable to the team – it wouldn’t have happened without each member of the team.
PA SIG: What advice would you give to trainees/early career professionals looking to pursue a non-traditional career path?
Dr. Wolin: Talk to as many people as possible about how they got there and what they did. You have to talk to someone who has done it, and do not assume you understand what it is like to be out there.