Investigator Spotlight: Getting to Know Davene Wright

Investigator Spotlight: Getting to Know Davene Wright

June 9, 2020

Davene Wright, Beyond the CV


Welcome to our spotlight series, where we look beyond the CV and learn more about our investigators. Meet Davene Wright, PhD, a new faculty member who joined our department in 2019. A decision scientist, Dr. Wright aims to improve the supply of and demand for efficient health care that can improve the management of pediatric chronic diseases, with a focus on childhood obesity.

Let’s dive in!

Davene Wright
Davene Wright, PhD

Q: Where are you from?

A: Stone Mountain, GA


Q: Where did you study?

A: I have a BS in Polymer and Textile Chemistry from Georgia Tech (2004) and PhD in Health Policy from Harvard (2012).

Q: Tell us about your career path before joining the Institute.

A: Although I basically majored in carpet science at Georgia Tech, I interned at the CDC and became interested in public health. After graduation, I was a research assistant/programmer at Mathematica Policy Research in Cambridge for two years before starting graduate school. I spent most of my time during grad school at the Center for Health Decision Science at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. From 2012-2019, I was an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington. My primary appointment was in the Department of Pediatrics, where I was the only health economics researcher in a department of over 400 people. That was a fantastic and supportive research environment, but I was also thankful for my appointment in the Comparative Health Outcomes, Policy, and Economics (CHOICE) Institute in the Department of Pharmacy, which was my methodological home.

Q: Please explain to us what you do.

A: I want to improve the supply of and demand for effective and efficient care to treat pediatric chronic diseases. As such, I’m interested in developing policies and interventions to improve treatment access and adherence. I use a whole host of tools to accomplish that goal—behavioral economics, decision analytic modeling, economic evaluation, and conjoint analysis.

Q: Sounds like important work! Tell us about one of your current projects.

A: I have a fun project called InvesT1D that’s funded by the American Diabetes Association. Our grant aims to test the impact of financial incentives on adolescent adherence to self-care for type 1 diabetes. By using a systematic, patient-centered approach, we hope to design incentives that are both more effective and better aligned with patient and family values than incentives that have been previously tested.  We're planning to start our randomized control trial (RCT) as soon as clinical research is allowed again. We have an interdisciplinary team with endocrinologists, a psychologist, an ethicist, a qualitative researcher, and a decision scientist (me!) from across the country. Adolescents are fun and forthcoming research subjects. It is fascinating to think about the family dynamics as parents and kids think about the teens’ transition to independence while managing a serious chronic illness. I’ve learned so much from our patient partners and my colleagues. During our team meetings, I feel like I’m in “the room where it happens.”

Q: What excites you most about being at the Institute?

A: I love that the Institute does a little bit of everything—health insurance and health policy research, cohort studies, pharmacoepidemiology, and clinical outcomes research. While my research interests are deeply rooted in child health, I love the overarching focus on methods as opposed to a particular clinical population. And it is a pleasure to work in such a nice building and neighborhood!

Q: In the past year, you’ve executed a cross-country move from Seattle to Boston, and transitioned to a new faculty position here at DPM. What have been some highlights of this journey? 

A: The first year I lived in Boston was 2004-2005, which ranks in the top 5 all-time worst winters in Boston history. That was my first time living outside of Atlanta and it was quite the shock to be that cold, that wet, and for the sun to set at 4pm in December. Thankfully, the transition from Seattle to Boston was much easier this time since I am older and wiser and this winter was mild.

Dueling Brookline benches
The dueling benches of Brookline.

I miss a lot about Seattle—my friends, colleagues, great food, and a wealth of natural beauty. I miss walking down the street and seeing a mountain come into view seemingly out of nowhere. But I am also enjoying living in a new neighborhood, meeting new and reconnecting with old colleagues, discovering the very strange "antisocial benches" along Beacon Street in Brookline, attending the IgNobel lectures in person, running away from aggressive turkeys, hearing thunderstorms again, and seeing all the gorgeous old buildings in Boston. I took the loveliest trip to Lake Champlain last August when I first moved here and am looking forward to weekend excursions in New England this coming summer.  I also appreciate that Boston is a lot more diverse than Seattle and that every flight isn't 5+ hours long! And I'm pleased to be near Market Basket again! I love Market Basket and the first thing I did when my car came was go there.

But seriously, what's with the benches? They are now social distancing benches, I suppose!


Q: You’re very active on social media (Twitter specifically), holding a position as moderator of the Society of Medical Decision Making Twitter account (@socmdm), and having cultivated a robust following of your own on Twitter (@WrightCensored). Tell us a bit more about your views of how social media can be utilized by researchers. What advice might you have for a researcher who might be considering opening a Twitter account?

A: Wait, is being very active on social media a good thing or a bad thing? For me, it's a good thing. It allows me to keep up to date on and have a dialogue about the latest research others are conducting, helps me disseminate my team's work, is a place I can look to for answers to questions, and most importantly, helps me feel like I'm part of a broader community. There are a number researchers who feel like friends, but it turns out I only know them via Twitter—it is surprising how much your personality can shine through if that's how you want to use the platform. Making flyers to promote events for SMDM and visual abstracts to disseminate new manuscripts is like a big art project—who doesn't love that?

Sarah Mojarad is an expert on social media and science communication. She shares some solid basic guidelines on how she uses Twitter. I would add:

  1. Check out Mom This is How Twitter Works to learn how to use the platform.
  2. Twitter can really take over your time if you let it, so set limits on when you use the site. This might mean only opening the app on the bus or train, sending one tweet each morning about research that interests you, and/or not having Twitter on your phone.
  3. Be kind and helpful. Amplify other people's work and celebrate others' achievements, especially trainees. I mute/unfollow people who use Twitter exclusively for self-promotion.
  4. It's okay to go off topic occasionally! Use memes and GIFs, write a #HealthPolicyValentine poem, share pies with #econbakingtwitter on Pi Day!
  5. Remember that you are only seeing the parts of someone's highlight reel that they choose to share. It's easy to paint a rosy picture of all your successes, but we're all human and all have struggles that aren't as readily shared. Don't let Twitter make you self-conscious about your productivity or achievements.
  6. Be careful about what information you reveal online (e.g. unpublished data, pictures, your location when you travel, and PHI).

Q: What book/tv show/or podcast do you love right now, and why?

A: I’m mourning the end of The Good Place, which approached philosophy thoughtfully and with humor.


Davene Wright


Beyond the CV