A day in the life of Judy Auerbach

IAS Member and Vice President of Research and Evaluation at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation

Like many IAS members, I simultaneously wear a few hats, and a day in my life involves aspects of all. I am Vice President of Research and Evaluation at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, one of the oldest community-based organizations responding to AIDS in the world. San Francisco AIDS Foundation sits on the border of two neighbourhoods in San Francisco hardest hit by HIV: the South of Market Area (SOMA) and the Tenderloin. Every week, we host 10 syringe access sites to provide sterile syringes and other safer injection equipment to prevent the spread of HIV, as well as hepatitis C. The foundation provides more than 2.4 million clean needles a year, resulting in an HIV transmission rate via intravenous drug use that is well below the national average. We distribute more than 550,000 condoms annually, and provide an array of substance use counselling services and community support programme. We also offer financial benefits counselling and assistance to keep HIV-positive people stably housed, because we know housing is prevention.

Just a few miles from the foundation offices, but dramatically different in terms of its population, is the predominantly-gay Castro neighbourhood, where the foundation operates Magnet, our gay men’s health centre. There, we conduct nearly 10,000 HIV tests annually, offer screenings for sexually transmitted infections, counsel gay and bisexual men about HIV and sexual health, and distribute condoms. Magnet is much more than just a place to get an HIV test – it’s also a gathering space, an art gallery, and a community “living room” in the Castro.

Throughout everything we do, research and its translation are at the core of our efforts to apply knowledge to action to prevent new infections. As such, the Research and Evaluation team I lead work to help increase the research literacy of our own staff and constituents, translate the latest scientific findings in HIV prevention, care, treatment, and support to our community, develop program evaluation capacity within the organization, and contribute findings from the foundation’s programmes to the evidence base of what works in the HIV/AIDS response.

I also am a “public sociologist.” I have a PhD in sociology, but I have chosen to work outside of academia almost all of my career--in government, research, policy, advocacy, and community-based organizations. In all these domains, I have attempted to bring the insights of sociology to bear on medical research and health policy deliberations focused on HIV/AIDS, women’s health, and gender equity.

I am also part of the HIV/AIDS advocacy community. Throughout my career, I have worked to advance sound, evidence-based policy in the U.S. and globally. A focal area of my current efforts in this regard is the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the U.S., which was released by President Obama in July 2010. As one of the leaders of the movement that produced the Strategy, I now work with my colleagues to continue to monitor and influence its implementation and progress toward its goals.

Probably because of my profile, I continue to be invited to participate in a number of science and advocacy activities both nationally and globally focused. For example, I currently am involved as a track co-chair for AIDS 2012, and member of the Global HIV Prevention Working Group, the U.S. National Institutes of Health Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council, the Well Project’s Women’s Research Initiative on HIV/AIDS, and various workshop and conference planning groups and advocacy networks.

A typical day in my work life involves meetings and conference calls on many different topics. Some of my day is spent researching and writing, and I dedicate a fair bit of time mentoring young scholars who I meet in HIV science and sociology circles, providing career advice, serving as a reference, and introducing them to important people and networks.

But, a day in my life includes more than work, and I believe it is very important for all of us involved in the HIV/AIDS response to respect and honour the non-work parts of our lives and those of our colleagues.