Interview with Kate Wolin



Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisation, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This interview is part of a series interviewing prominent people in the field. And in today's interview the answers are provided by Kate Wolin. Kate is an entrepreneurial executive and behavioral epidemiologist. She brings over 20 years of experience combining behavioral medicine, user-centered design and data science to deliver effective health behavior change solutions. Kate is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Chicago. She also co-leads the healthcare track for the Zell Fellows Entrepreneur Program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

She is a co-founder of Coeus Health, which aims to speed the translation of research tested health and wellness programs to the real world. With such a varied background and experience, let's see how she does in this interview!




Who or what got you into behavioural science?

Working with Drs. Karen Emmons and Glorian Sorensen at the Center for Community-Based Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard School of Public Health. I'm always surprised when I hear people say that academic behavioral science isn't applied. Karen and Glorian have been doing applied behavioral medicine research for decades - in health centers, community residential settings and workplaces. As an anthropology major, I loved the focus of their work on understanding how culture and context matter for health behavior change. The research also centered on what resources were available in those settings to continue the work after the study ended and the research team left. Both were frequent collaborators with physicians and other public health scientists (e.g., epidemiologists and biostatisticians) giving me a great foundation in transdisciplinary science. Lastly, I met some of my favorite colleagues there - Gary Bennett, Reggie Tucker-Seeley, Rachel Shelton, Lorna Haughton-McNeill all spent part of their training there. 


What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?

Translating a research proven (via randomized clinical trial) digital weight management concept into a commercially successful product and company. 

Help others do the same - be that helping academic research be integrated in to commercial healthcare delivery models or helping commercial healthcare teams leverage decades of behavioral medicine research to avoid reinventing the wheel.


If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? 

I'd be using more of the data science aspects of my training. Or working my way through all the recipes in my collection of 1970s church cookbooks.


How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? 

I weigh myself every day. 


With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? 

Knowing what you don't know and the humility to connect with and listen to those who have subject matter expertise on the specific behavior/outcome area of focus matters. We don't ask radiologists to perform surgeries even though both are physicians. 


How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?

I hope we will see more collaboration between scientists and industry. In particular, I would like to see the rigor of academic research applied to industry. Every solution may not need a Pharma-level randomized clinical trial, but we also need to be wary of unsubstantiated claims as we recognize that harm can come from using ineffective digital health solutions in place of traditional solutions (e.g., in the mental health space)


Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?

Sherry Pagoto, Ellen Beckjord, David Conroy, Chandra Osborn, Hayden Bosworth, Madalina Sucala, Gary Bennett, Cynthia Castro Sweet, Redford Williams, Julia Hoffman, Chris Mosunic, Vic Strecher  




Thank you so much for taking the time to write down these amazing answers Kate!


As I said before, this interview is part of a larger series which can also be found here on the blog. Make sure you don't miss any of those, nor any of the upcoming interviews!

Keep your eye on Money on the Mind!