STEM-ing Abroad

2015 alum works as research assistant in London


Nick Birk

Nick Birk graduates Harvard School of Public Health in 2020

Yness Martinez, Editor

In the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world, full of centuries of reveled academia, a Viper has made his home in rainy London, England. From Texas, to Massachusetts and now to the U.K., Nick Birk hasn’t lost sight of his drive to learn from the best. 

“I completed a Masters in Biostatistics from Harvard School of Public Health.” Birk said. “In short, biostatistics is a specialization with more of a focus on medical and epidemiological research.”

Birk graduated from Vandegrift in 2015, UT Austin in 2020 with dual degrees, and received his Harvard masters degree in 2020. He now works as a research assistant at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, England. 

“As a research assistant, primarily working as a statistician for a few different projects.” Birk said. “I’m hoping to continue gaining experience in this role and then apply for PhD programs in Biostatistics.”

Although his college passions have led him to the fields of health research, he spent most of his time at Vandegrift pursuing music and the stage lights.

“I was quite involved with the VHS choir and theater programs, so most of my elective periods were choir and theater classes.” Birk said. “I really enjoyed AP Music Theory in that it was quite different from my other classes and was an interesting intersection between academics and my enjoyment of music.”

Although his masters program took him to Harvard, the graduate schools mostly have their own campuses. The School of Public Health is actually located in a part of Boston near many large hospitals.

“I’ve actually barely been in any of the buildings at Harvard College.” Birk said. “Some people might be surprised to learn that the University as a whole has a presence in many different parts of the Boston area.”

Birk experienced a lot of doubt when deciding his major; even switching his major every semester for his first couple of years at UT. When his high school passions for music didn’t transfer into his college experience, he reconsidered if his current path was right for him

“I do wonder what could’ve been if I had studied music instead,” Birk said. “but I didn’t lose music completely from my life by studying something else.”

By fostering outside hobbies, Birk is able to stay motivated in his work. Now living in London, he works on a variety of projects at LSHTM to gain experience before pursuing a PhD.

“One project I am helping analyze data for is assessing the impact of an educational program,” Birk said. “It’s for helping pregnant women with gestational diabetes to manage their blood sugar throughout pregnancy.”

Throughout his experience in biomedical sciences, Birk has learned to be patient with his work, and there’s alway a lesson to be learned from a failed project.

“Making a discovery or publishing a study is really exciting, but often comes at the end of a long process with a lot of frustration along the way.” Birk said. “Further, there will be work that doesn’t result in any meaningful findings, and it was difficult for me to avoid internalizing a sense of failure at first.”

In his experience, it’s ok – and common – to change career paths. By taking as many diverse courses in high school as you can, you can decide where your interests lie before applying to university. 

“I really discovered I was interested in biostatistics specifically through a summer program in biostatistics I did between my sophomore and junior year at UT.” Birk said. “I actually called the UT advising office and asked to change my major to math during my lunch break that summer at the program.”

As a Vandegrift, UT, and Harvard alum, Birk still owes much of his success to his time here on campus. Whether it was the in depth instruction of AP Statistics,  or his new found appreciation of music through AP Music Theory – Birk’s passions took root here.

“I don’t think I realized while I was at VHS the extent to which the school was preparing me for college.” Birk said. “I think it’s important to say that whatever you choose as a career doesn’t have to become your everything.”