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What LLS Fellows Do

LLS Fellows Perform Service While Learning

Protecting the public’s health and the safety is a coordinated effort. It takes experts from a range of health and science disciplines working together to address the public health threats we face in our communities and country at-large. Laboratory scientists are a critical link in this chain. The LLS program gives PhD scientists a unique opportunity to go beyond the bench for guided instruction and hands-on problem-solving alongside the elite corps of public health professionals that protect America’s health and safety 24/7.

The LLS fellowship provides a one-of-a-kind training experience for laboratory scientists who are ready to apply their expertise inside and outside of the lab, ultimately preparing them to be the next generation of public health laboratory leaders who work to protect public health. Fellows conduct cutting-edge research, support rapid response to disasters and disease outbreaks, help investigate emerging health threats, and enhance the laboratory systems and practices that are essential for public health. LLS seeks laboratory scientists looking to take their careers to the next level while doing work that delivers real benefits to communities across the country.

LLS is modeled after CDC’s globally-recognized Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) in the sense that it is service-based and public health-focused, but LLS is different in that it is laboratory-centric. LLS experiential learning projects focus on laboratory science, quality, and safety while emphasizing leadership and advanced communication skill-building.

What LLS Fellows Learn
LLS fellow presents at EIS Conference.
LLS fellow examines a giant African land snail in the lab.
LLS fellow presents at EIS Conference.
LLS fellow draws model of rat brain.
LLS fellow serves on Ebola response.

Through rigorous didactic training, mentorship, and diverse hands-on experiences in the field or in CDC, state or local public health laboratories, LLS graduates gain rich public health expertise and leadership skills sought after by today’s public health laboratories.

During this 2-year experiential service-based fellowship, LLS fellows gain a breadth of experiences and skills as they work on projects for their assigned lab, respond to emerging public health needs, and receive mentorship by CDC and other public health experts. A fellow’s training is aligned with competencies that will prepare them for leadership roles in public health laboratory science careers.  Fellows gain and apply skills in leadership, laboratory quality management, the science of biosafety, and bioinformatics while also being trained in applied research, communications, multidisciplinary teamwork, emergency response and program management.

About 90% of fellows’ curriculum is provided through hands-on assignments under the guidance of seasoned mentors and supervisors, and about 10% occurs through rigorous, didactic course work, case studies, exercises, and e-learning. Examples of fellowship training activities include, but are not limited to:

  • A rigorous, one-month summer orientation in Atlanta, Georgia at the beginning of the fellowship
  • One-week workshop during the fall of the fellowship’s first year that provides interactive training on safety risk assessments, scientific writing, and risk communications
  • Additional one-week workshop during the summer of the fellowship’s second year that provides essential training in leadership, effective communications, and career-planning
  • Engaging in practical, applied field investigations and conducting applied laboratory research to help address urgent public health problems
  • Conducting comprehensive laboratory safety risk assessments to help improve the safety culture in CDC or other public health laboratories
  • Evaluating laboratory quality management systems to ensure that labs provide consistent and reliable data
  • Using innovative technologies to conduct and analyze bioinformatics, surveillance, laboratory and other data that help inform public health practice
  • Presenting findings from investigations and studies during agency seminars and at national and international conferences
  • Applying effective communication principles when presenting findings or preparing written materials or during news media interviews
  • Networking and collaborating with Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers and other CDC fellows during didactic training, public health investigations and events

LLS fellows complete the program’s Core Activities of Learning (CALs), based on competencies published by CDC and Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL):

  1. Conduct applied laboratory research to address a public health or safety-related issue.
  2. Conduct a safety risk assessment to evaluate the probability and potential consequences of exposure to a given hazard.
  3. Evaluate a laboratory quality management system.
  4. Incorporate bioinformatics principles into applied public health laboratory science.
  5. Give a 10–20 minute oral presentation to a scientific audience.
  6. Give an in-depth public health talk on the fellow’s original LLS work or field of study.
  7. Write a first author scientific manuscript for a peer-reviewed journal.
  8. Participate in laboratory operations management.
  9. Communicate complex scientific concepts to an external lay audience.
  10. Provide service to public health laboratories.
How LLS Fellows Serve
LLS fellow conducts laboratory demonstration.
LLS fellow works at night in the U.S. Virgin Islands on an Epi-Aid response.
LLS fellow works in lab.
LLS fellow conducts water sampling during Epi-Aid investigation.
LLS fellow works in the U.S. Virgin Islands on an Epi-Aid response.

LLS training is largely hands-on and experiential. Fellows primarily perform assignments within their host laboratories as a service to the agency and other public health labs by supporting outbreak investigations, leading Lab-Aids, supporting EIS officers on Epi-Aids, or providing laboratory expertise for large-scale public health responses.

LLS fellows provide on-the-job service to CDC, state or local public health laboratories, as assigned.  In their daily work, fellows support the mission objectives of their host labs through hands-on service, whether through research contributions, conducting risk assessments, supporting laboratory operations, or other routine, high-performance activities.

Examples of fellows’ on-the-job service include:

  • Developing Quality Management System materials for the population-based HIV impact assessment in Zambia
  • Creating laboratorian competency assessment procedures for inactivating pox and rabies viruses
  • Training laboratory scientists in Uganda on proper specimen handling and processing for Ebola testing
  • Providing technical assistance to the World Health Organization for the development of global guidance on laboratory biosafety and biosecurity
  • Designing and overseeing the implementation of new laboratory facilities and operations in New York City to provide rapid, point-of-care testing for STDs (the Chelsea Express “Quickie Lab”)
  • Conduct cutting-edge applied public health laboratory research, such as developing new bioinformatics tools to investigate bacterial meningitis outbreaks or investigating the spread of hard-to-treat, antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • As a field assignee, leading the laboratory component of a Legionella outbreak investigation in on behalf of the fellow’s state public health lab
  • Investigating infectious and chronic diseases, environmental and occupational health threats, birth defects, and developmental disabilities, depending on the mission objectives of the host site laboratory
  • Always being ready to respond to emerging public health threats, like Zika virus, measles, and COVID-19

LLS fellows frequently collaborate with EIS officers on field investigations and outbreak responses. Whenever possible, the LLS and EIS programs combine the laboratory and epidemiologic expertise of their fellows so these disease detectives can apply a comprehensive approach to complex public health issues.

Examples of fellows’ providing lab support for Epi-Aids include:

  • Providing field sampling support for norovirus outbreak
  • Investigating the spread of rabies among the mongoose population in the US Virgin Islands
  • Investigating the spread of adenovirus among outpatients of a substance abuse treatment center
  • Determining the source of Burkholderia psuedomallei contamination in freshwater aquarium animals and plants
  • Providing critical laboratory support for patient testing and diagnosis during a leptospirosis outbreak in the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Onsite sampling and testing for Escherichia coli contamination at chicken farms identified as the source of an outbreak

LLS fellows may have the opportunity to lead a Lab-Aid. A Lab-Aid is a mechanism for providing rapid, short-term support to state, local, and federal public health labs for critical laboratory testing or operational needs. During a Lab-Aid, an LLS fellow assumes a leadership role, supported by a CDC subject matter expert, to address an urgent public health concern.

A Lab-Aid may involve:

  • Conducting lab safety risk assessments
  • Advising on lab quality issues or systems to help improve the reliability and reproducibility of lab data
  • Standing up or strengthening the lab component of a surveillance program
  • Assisting with bioinformatics or advanced molecular detection (AMD) workflows or analyses
  • Providing lab expertise or assistance for outbreak investigations
  • Capacity building or laboratory operations support

LLS fellows have led and supported several Lab-Aids since the launch of the Lab-Aid service in 2017. Specific examples include:

  • Providing training on rabies diagnostic assays to partners in the New York City Public Health Laboratory
  • Helping partners in the Hawaii Public Health Laboratory bring on new assays to detect Legionella
  • Responding to a Legionella outbreak in New York City
  • Providing capacity building support to public health labs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after hurricane damage destroyed their facilities
  • Advising multiple laboratories on their quality management systems and helping to implement sustainable and efficient lab quality procedures

LLS fellows provide service to CDC and support large-scale responses to protect public health. As key responders during large-scale public health responses, fellows are highly valued and sought after given their unique training and expertise. LLS fellows’ commitment to public health is amplified through field deployments, service to state and local laboratory jurisdictions, support for CDC’s laboratories and Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Some of the ways LLS fellows have supported large-scale public health responses include:

  • During the Ebola response, LLS fellows provided support to international ministries of health for laboratory operations and logistics support for specimen handling
  • During the Zika response, an LLS fellow partnered with public health officials in Columbia to streamline laboratory operations by developing and implementing streamlined sample processing and tracking systems
  • Serving in a leadership role during CDC’s measles response in 2019
  • LLS fellows partnered with health officials in Ghana to support the global polio eradication efforts
  • During the COVID-19 response, the LLS program shifted the focus of all LLS fellows’ training and service activities to fully support CDC’s response efforts to stop the spread of the virus. Fellows deployed directly to state and local public health labs to provide technical and operational support, while others deployed with epidemiologists to help facilitate patient contact tracing. Several fellows deployed to quarantine areas and stations to support specimen handling, tracking, and testing logistics, while other fellows remained at CDC to provide technical expertise for reference testing or assume leadership and response coordination roles in the agency’s Emergency Operation Center (EOC).

See also the visual timeline representing some of the program’s key milestones.

Where LLS Fellows Work

LLS fellows are assigned to complete their 2-year service at either a CDC, state, or local public health laboratory. CDC laboratory assignments may be based at the agency’s headquarters in Atlanta or at other locations across the country.

Assignments are determined for each year’s incoming class according to the best possible match between a fellow’s’ education, skills, and experience and the host laboratory’s needs. Assignments have included (but are not limited to):