Joseph Zunt, MD MPH is a professor of neurology, global health, and epidemiology at the University of Washington. Originally from Minnesota, he is one of four co-PIs for the NPGH Fogarty Fellows. His research interests include infectious diseases of the central nervous system and education and training.
Joe Zunt first went to Peru on a Fogarty-funded infectious disease fellowship, spending seven months there researching HTLV-1 infections of the central nervous system in a move that would shape his career and life for years to come. Zunt went to Peru with the advice and support of Dr. King Holmes, first Chair of the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington and currently head of the Center for AIDS Research, after a Dr. Joan Kreiss, Director of the UW International AIDS Research and Training Program, advised him that the lack of CT scan machines in Kenya, where Zunt had been planning to go, would make it difficult to study brain infections in patients with AIDS. On his first trip to South America, Zunt forged friendships and professional connections with other researchers with whom he is still collaborating after 19 years.
Although Zunt trained as a neurologist and still spends part of every week in the clinic, it is clear that training and mentoring have become the major focus of his career, and Peru remains the center of many of his projects. The four main grants he co-directs all involve sending researchers back and forth to Peru for training with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of care and research on neurological disorders in that country (and in the entire world if you ask him). Add to that his own research projects on meningoencephalitis, a family life, and regular trips for conferences and workshops and you begin to wonder how he does even a third of that. But remember that strong network of collaborators he has? Nobody plans an “HIV: Mixed Methods and Sociobehavioral Research” workshop in Bangkok by himself.
Perhaps that is why Zunt puts so much of his energy into mentoring; more than just a buzzword, interacting with more experienced researchers is perhaps the most important resource a young scientist can have and Zunt’s own work has gained much from his mentors. He still meets almost daily with Holmes, who set him on his path, although their discussions are more often about the merits of malted milk balls vs. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups over the office candy jar. When you are not too busy stressing over IRB applications and working on your research, remember to pay attention to the people around you—you never know when a conversation might spark a publication, a friendship, or an Interdisciplinary Cerebrovascular Diseases Training Program in South America.
Author: Nikki Eller. This article was originally published in the NPGH Fogarty Fellows November Newsletter