Interview by Sarah Goodnight
What first drew you to parasitology?
As many little kids who grew up loving animals, I was determined that I was going to be a veterinarian! When I was in high school, I was involved in FFA and participated in a contest focused on veterinary science knowledge and proficiencies. My favorite part of this contest, and where I performed best, was the parasite identification. I was our team’s self-appointed “parasite person” and was pretty proud of it too. I think that was my parents’ first clue that they were in for something a little different than most!
Tell us about an exciting project you’ve been working on recently.
We work pretty closely with a wildlife rehabilitator in our area and about a month ago they had a Great Horned Owl come in. When they did their initial intake exam they found some trematodes in its mouth, they removed them and sent them to us to be ID’d. After a LOT of reading and a lot of time in the lab we finally figured out that they were Clinostomum sp.
Any advice for new or prospective students starting out in science?
Figure out who it is you look up to in your science field and walk up to them. They started out the exact same as us, and more often than not they’re willing to talk to you about it.
What’s your favorite “big-picture idea” in parasitology, and why?
My personal favorite is the interconnection that parasites represent, specifically for me evaluating human and wildlife interactions through parasites. My undergraduate training was in wildlife science where we focused a lot on management and human dimensions or the role of people in conservation. And now my graduate training is in One Health Science concentrating on the overlap of human, animal, and environmental health. I personally enjoy combining the two fields and working within this niche.
What species of parasite are you working with for your dissertation? Share some details about its life history and why you chose to study it!
I work with Baylisascaris procyonis. As I stated earlier, my undergraduate training was in wildlife science and going to wildlife conferences there was a shocking lack of research being presented on parasitic diseases, even though as wildlife managers we addressed them all the time! So I knew that was an issue. The other issue we face as wildlife managers is potential threats to our own health, hello zoonotic disease! I was sitting in a conference presentation about using prescribed fire as a potential tool for “deactivating” B. procyonis eggs when I began formulating what I wanted my graduate work to look like. It became really clear to me there were research opportunities combing wildlife management and B. procyonis research utilizing the One Health lens, how do we steward environmental and animal health to ensure human health as well?
What’s your favorite parasite and why is it the coolest?
Obviously I’m biased (my opinion not my science…) but I love Baylisascaris procyonis! Number 1, they are so cute, have you ever seen them? Number 2, the havoc they can create inside the human body is nuts! The crazier the infection symptoms, the more I love them (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis is a close second).
When not in the lab or the field, what do you like to do in your free time?
I love to create stuff! I’m big into painting and drawing and recently have gotten into sewing. My biggest projects lately have been drawing and designing my own fabric patterns and sewing silk scarves! Yes, I have some parasite pattern ones (I’m wearing one in my picture)!