Updated: Nov 20, 2019
This month's ASP Member Spotlight features Dr. Herman Eure, Professor Emeritus of Biology at Wake Forest University. For more information on Dr. Eure, check out this excellent interview Wake Forest Magazine did after Dr. Eure was awarded Wake Forest's Medallion of Merit (the highest honor this University confers).
What drew you to parasitology in particular?
I went to undergraduate school at a small historically black college on the eastern shore of Maryland called Maryland State College (now The University of Maryland Eastern Shore). My biology Professor during my second year there was a man named Dr. James B. Abram. He was from Oklahoma and he had just completed his doctorate at Oklahoma State University and his area of concentration was parasitology. He had worked on the intestinal parasites of the muskrat, Ondatra zibethica, that inhabits the wetlands of Oklahoma. I was fascinated by his work and being from a rural town in eastern North Carolina I had always been a student of the out of doors. Actually, there was nothing else to do but roam around in the woods and streams in the countryside. So, discovering that one could be outside and do work that would eventually lead to an advanced degree was very appealing to me. He became my advisor and mentor and I took every course that he taught, including parasitology and ecology, which I really liked. I found that I could combine the two into a study of parasites ecology, so I decided that I was going to go to graduate school if I ever got the chance.
Of course during those days there wasn’t a large pool of money for blacks to attend graduate school. I worked everyday that I attended college and during my last year there I worked for the secretary of the college president, Ms. Steele. Ms. Steele would often leave me notes for the work that she wanted me to do and one day she left me an application announcing a new program through the Ford Foundation called Doctoral Fellowships for Black Students. I applied, got the fellowship, and thus had funds (5 years of funding, plus a stipend to live on) for graduate school. I chose Wake Forest because the University was starting a new Ph. D program and I thought that it would be good getting in on the ground rung of a newly minted doctoral program. During my second year at Wake I started to work with Dr. Gerald Esch, another person who had attended school in Oklahoma, but OU, not OSU. He too, was a parasitologist and was just beginning to work in the area of ecological animal parasitology after spending his entire career up to that point as a biochemical parasitologist. He, Clive Kennedy, Al Bush, John Janovy, John Holmes, and Brent Nichol were the first to work extensively in this new area and it dovetailed perfectly with what I wanted to do. After my course work was completed at Wake I spent two years at the Savannah River Ecology Lab in Aiken, SC working on the parasites of largemouth bass in one of the heated reservoirs on that site. Long story, but that is how I got into parasitology.
What was your most exciting discovery?
One of the parasites that I found in the bass was a tapeworm called Proteocephalus ambloplitis. Freeman and Esch had both previously worked on this tapeworm in Canada and Gull Lake, Michigan, respectively, and had found that the migration of this tapeworm from parenteric to enteric sites occurred in late spring and summer. It was theorized that, among the triggering cues for migration, one was a change in the water temperature as temperatures rose in those latitudes. The change in temperature range was thought to be an increase from 7 to 12 degrees. Thus, adult tapeworms only appeared in the guts of bass in late spring, summer, and fall and persisted until the winter freeze occurred. Well, in South Carolina water temperatures never get to either of those temperatures because the lakes don’t freeze, plus there was also thermal input from the reactors that were cooled by the reservoir waters. And, I discovered adult tapeworms in fish in December and January! Esch did not believe me until he came down to Aiken from Winston-Salem, NC and I dissected a fish in front of him and extracted adult tapeworms! The theory of the temperature increase triggering migration had to be revisited. Ultimately we postulated that a change in water temperature could be one of the cues and it could be a temperature approaching the 12 degree range as suggested, but that change would occur from fall to winter in southern latitudes, thus triggering enteric migration. In addition, if the range is correct that temperature would only be seen as temps dropped, not rose, in the south during the winter months. The concept of latitudinal shifts in parasite life cycles thus added to our many questions of parasite ecology and how environmental factors drive parasite population occurrences and densities.
Any advice for maintaining a work-life balance as a scientist?
Enjoy what you do as a career, but remember that people and family are the real substance of a rich and fulfilling life. Try to expose yourself to as many different life experiences as you can, especially if you are an academic. I love biology, but I never allowed it to be my sole area of exposure or enjoyment. I got involved in a lot of activities throughout campus, and that enriched my professional associations and led to situations where I could teach in different ways. The bane of an academic life is that most of us don’t really know how to do anything else but teach and work in our labs or in the field, so when our science slows or we reach the later years we are lost. Never let your job be both your professional and personal means of enjoyment. If you do, when you retire, you will be miserable! I saw this when I was one of the associate deans in the college. Many of my colleagues in the college had no idea what they were going to do when they retired. Never let your career be the sole means of your identity or feeling of self worth. Spend time with your family and friends and you will discover that it helps to rejuvenate your professional juices when you return to your job. Life is too short to spend all of your time in a lab or in the field, even if you love what you are doing when you are there. With family, some moments cannot be recovered, or recreated if you were not there when they first occurred.
What do you think is the best way to reach traditionally underrepresented groups in science?
The first thing we need to do as a profession is to hire more of these groups, minorities and women, as colleagues. Some people still think that when universities state that they are looking for minorities and women for faculty positions (affirmative action) that those folks are automatically going to be less qualified than their majority counterparts. My response to that assertion when I hear it is that most minorities and women have Ph. D degrees from majority institutions and those institutions don’t let us get out without being qualified!! Their reputation is at stake so they are not going to risk that. Then we need to recruit students in their first years in college and tell them that this career is available to them. Seeing someone like yourself in a profession and knowing that you too can be a scientist if you work hard is the only thing some students, who never thought of that career, need. We then grow our own using these students to recruit others. We need to be fair, upfront about why we need them, and honest about what it will take to succeed.
We MUST also provide funding opportunities for graduate study. If it had not been for the Ford Foundation I might not have gone on to graduate school. They allowed me to pursue my dream and provided the resources to make it happen. We must remove this obstacle from that career path. We also need to have career seminars in our science departments that let these students know what we do as scientists and why it should be important to them. Many parasitic diseases disproportionately affect the brown and black peoples of the world and we need to tell them that they need to have a stake in eradicating these diseases. Being a stakeholder radically change one’s mind about career choices. We need to encourage these students to do research in our lab, and take them to scientific meetings, thus exposing them to the field. In short, we need to mentor these students just as you would any other student. Getting them in the door is the first step and a welcoming attitude goes a long way in achieving that goal.