Dr Alexandra Phelan, 2013 Pratt Foundation John Monash Scholar, has come a long way since completing her studies at Georgetown University. She is a globally recognised expert in global health law, with expertise in international law and infectious diseases and the impact of global change events on health, including planetary health issues such as biodiversity and climate change. Most recently, she was appointed Senior Scholar and Associate Professor at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. We spoke with Alexandra about her academic journey since receiving the John Monash Scholarship and her current work as a professor, scholar and leader.
Hi Alexandra, congratulations on your new appointment! What does this role entail?
Thank you so much! As Associate Professor and Senior Scholar at the Center for Health Security, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, I will continue my work on international law, infectious diseases, and planetary health. This includes research on the proposed Pandemic Treaty and its negotiations, amendments to the International Health Regulations, and the intersection of climate change and biodiversity with pandemic risk. In my work, I also advise international organisations, governments, and institutions on governance and international law issues relating to global health.
How will this new role take your career trajectory to new heights?
The promotion to Associate Professor and Senior Scholar recognises my increasing seniority in the field and contributions to global health law, and my move to Johns Hopkins is an amazing opportunity to work at the world’s leading public health school. I hope that through this new role I can increase awareness and understanding of the importance of the role of governance in outbreak and pandemic response, while improving our existing legal instruments and institutions that have been sorely tested during COVID-19.
You recently were an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University Medical Center.Will you still be involved with Georgetown this year?
With this new role, I will be saying goodbye to Georgetown after nearly ten years! I first arrived in the US on the John Monash Scholarship to study my doctorate at Georgetown Law, and so after nearly a decade it is a bittersweet departure. I will be maintaining my close collaboration with colleagues at Georgetown – for example, I am currently writing a book on Global Health Law with my former supervisor and now colleague, Larry Gostin.
How has effective leadership propelled your career forward?
I study how we can improve responses to outbreaks and pandemics. As has been unfortunately demonstrated during this pandemic, effective leadership is so critical to responding to global health threats like infectious disease and climate change. For me, effective leadership is therefore not only something that I think is central to being an advocate and an academic – whether in the media, the classroom, or through scholarship – but also to the larger goal of my work: reducing inequities and lives lost due to failure to prevent, prepare, and respond to global health threats.
How has being a John Monash Scholar positively impacted your career since your studies?
The John Monash Scholarship brought me to the United States and essentially launched my global career. Without the support of the John Monash Scholarship, I would not have been able to become a global health law scholar so quickly and deeply. Since my studies, the broader network of scholars here in the United States has been wonderful to be a part of, and kept my connections to Australia, through embassy and consulate events, podcasts, social catch ups, and the personal relationships that we’ve been able to build.
Outside of your new role, what are your plans for this upcoming year?
I have a big year ahead as I’m expecting my first child mid-year! Hopefully that will also mean family visiting the US and a trip back to Australia at some point.
What are some words of advice you must share with this year’s cohort of John Monash Scholars as they embark on their journeys across the world?
The speed and scale of opportunity that comes with the John Monash Scholarship and your studies can sometimes be like drinking from a fire hose, but it’s an unparalleled chance to truly craft a career of leadership and service.