American Association for Clinical Chemistry
Better health through laboratory medicine
July 2008 Mentor of the Month Interview: Thomas Annesley
Biography
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background
  3. What are your Board certifications?
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
  12. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Biography
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
    My academic title at the University of Michigan is Professor of Clinical Chemistry.
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    I obtained my Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Rice University, followed by Post-Doctoral training in Clinical Chemistry at the Mayo Clinic. After finishing my training at the Mayo, I started at the University of Michigan, where I have remained for the last 27 years.
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    I am board certified by the American Board of Clinical Chemistry.
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    I actively participate in the AACC, the American Society for Mass Spectrometry, the National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry, and the Council of Science Editors.
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    In college I blew up a chemistry laboratory while doing summer research. This shows that anyone can do something stupid and still have a good career.
    I like to collect seashells from around the world, and enjoy walking beaches for my vacations. My best vacations consist of getting up, walking the beach, having coffee, walking the beach, having lunch, walking the beach, eating supper, and finishing the day by walking the beach. I also do some Bonsai.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    Most of my efforts involve drug analysis, toxicology, and special chemistry, and some point-of-care. I like the challenge of developing a new assay where a commercial application either does not exist or could be improved upon.
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    When I stared college I already had an interest in doing laboratory work. My advisor was also a part-time state patrolman and testing consultant for the county. As an analytical chemist he used to test for the presence of marijuana using Duquenois reagent, which has the most wonderful smell because it contains vanillin. I would hear him yell out of his office “hot dog, busted another hippy”. He introduced me to Gary Hemphill, a clinical chemist who was setting up one of the first clinical toxicology laboratories at Metropolitan Medical Center in Minneapolis. The more I interacted with people who blended chemistry with medicine the more excited I became about clinical chemistry as a career.
    After I had been at the University of Michigan for a couple of years, the leadership asked me to step out of the routine high volume laboratory and help build up the institution’s capabilities to do more esoteric assays. So I put more emphasis on HPLC, GC, GC-MS, and LC-MS assays, which it turns out I have enjoyed very much.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    My research interests, as well as much of my service time, lie in the area of mass spectrometry. In addition to trying to develop LC-tandem mass spectrometric assays for clinical assays, I do research into the basic chemical principles of chemical ionization and factors that affect electrospray ionization.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    I have had the pleasure of working for the AACC’s journal Clinical Chemistry since 1991, first as a member of the Board of Editors, then as an Associate Editor, and now as Deputy Editor. Serving as a journal editor involves more than simply critiquing someone else’s work. There is both a responsibility and certain degree of inherent talent in working with authors as customers (who do not have to send their best work to us). I feel that I have made a real contribution in helping authors improve their work, present it in a way that best reflects them and the journal, and each month provide a high quality product for those that read the journal.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    I least like the bureaucracy that most of us must traverse in order to get things done. Most medical centers have become so complex, and yet compartmentalized, that there often exists an unnecessary adversarial or competitive environment.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    The most rewarding aspects of my career have come from recognition of my scientific accomplishments by my peers. These include receiving the Young Investigator’s Award of the AACC, appointments to journal editorial boards, and my recent appointment as Deputy Editor of the journal Clinical Chemistry.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    Try to remember that working those few extra hours never really gets you caught up. I learned this too late. Every once in a while call in well. And have a hobby that gets you as far away from thinking about work as possible.
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    There seems to be a new challenge every day. It may be a unique clinical case, something new learned about an assay, the opportunity to work with the staff to solve problems.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    I think that we are seeing a new resurgence in the development and applications of new technologies in laboratory medicine. Mass spectrometry, molecular techniques, microarrays, microfluidics, and automation are creating new opportunities in many areas of laboratory medicine. New technologies are also helping to dissolve barriers between disciplines, which creates opportunities to collaborate with colleagues in other laboratory medicine specialties.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    The increasing complexity and breadth of medicine can create opportunities to become an important resource in many new areas. But this increasing complexity can also be overwhelming and make one believe that one’s value and worth to an employer are based on being an expert in everything.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    Young scientists should keep a proper perspective and not try to do too much at once. Keep your goals to a manageable number. Look around and see (or ask) where the opportunities lie, and start there. If you already have a passion for some area or aspect of laboratory medicine, do what keeps you motivated and do not worry about immediate rewards.
  12. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
    Starting with volunteer and elected positions at the local section level, my name became more visible within the AACC. I held positions as Program Chair and Section Chair, and then became more confident in pursuing positions at a national level. Since then I have served on the AACC Awards Committee, Program Coordinating Commission, TDM/Tox Division Board, the ABCC and NRCC Boards, three Annual Meeting Organizing Committees, and the AACC Board of Directors.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    I was lucky to have the opportunity early in my career to become active in the AACC. At my first local section meeting Roger Calam, a long time member of the AACC, introduced himself and took me under his wing. He introduced me to many of the attendees and made sure that everyone knew that I was there. It made me want to come back to more meetings, and this visibility at meetings identified me as someone with an interest in the field. So the first message is to be a mentor to new members whenever you can. Invite them to meetings, introduce them to influential people, and foster their enthusiasm.
    For those who want to get involved in the AACC or any other organization, start by volunteering for whatever they need you to do. Contact a local section Chair, a division Chair, even the AACC President and introduce yourself. Ask what you can do. Inquire if there are any committees that need help, any future meetings that need volunteers, or any one-time tasks that need to get done. Do not be afraid that you are not good enough or “too new” to be of any value.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    Be prouder and louder about clinical chemistry. You have already accomplished a lot to be where you are.