Elika Somani

Fellow with the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health

In her career, Elika says global health was her “first love.” Her father was employed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and she grew up moving from country to country for his work. Elika started working on global health from a young age: at sixteen, she worked for the CDC on hand hygiene, malaria prevention, and post-Ebola triage systems in Sierra Leone. After completing her undergraduate degree in 2021, she managed 30 COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites that conducted over 100,000 tests per week for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Elika first encountered effective altruism and 80,000 Hours in 2018. Since then, she has volunteered as a facilitator for EA Virtual Programs; helped organise the EAGxBerkeley conference; and found some of our own resources helpful, like our podcast and career planning template.

In late 2021, Elika was applying to various graduate degree programs in global health and medicine. But through her engagement with 80,000 Hours and the effective altruism community, she realised that she could have more impact in a related field: biosecurity. Here, she could work on important problems that were more neglected, and her skills and knowledge would be far less replaceable.

Elika began applying for roles in biosecurity. She received two offers at about the same time: one to join the National Institutes of Health as a Bioethics Fellow, and another to study Health Metrics and Implementation at UW Washington.

Elika reached out to our advising team to discuss her options. After the conversation with us, Elika decided to accept the NIH’s offer. Elika was primarily motivated by the opportunity to increase her expected impact. Considerations of replaceability were also important. In this role, she would be able to conduct potentially impactful research in biosecurity, emerging risks and governance that would not be conducted at all otherwise.

Today, Elika is a Fellow in the NIH’s Department of Bioethics. She conducts desk research on biosecurity and clinical research ethics. Her research in biosecurity includes ethics and oversight (covering dual-use risks, risk-mapping work, ethics issues, and stakeholder engagement) and emerging technologies (such as how generative AI models are changing biological risks).

To learn more about Biosecurity and pandemic prevention, check out:

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