- What is your job title and affiliation?
Assistant Professor of Pathology, University of Utah
Medical Director, Special Chemistry, ARUP Laboratories
- Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
I earned a BA in Biology and a BS in Medical Technology from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and then worked as a medical technologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, MA for one year before returning to graduate school. I received a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, also in Worcester, and then joined the faculty at Fitchburg State College in Fitchburg, MA where I taught clinical chemistry to undergraduates for six years. I left to pursue post-doctoral training in clinical chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis and then headed back east to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I was an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and an associate director of the core laboratory. In 2007 I was recruited to the University of Utah and ARUP Laboratories and have been there since.
- What are your Board certifications?
I am certified as a Medical Technologist by the American Society for Clinical Pathology and in Clinical Chemistry by the American Board of Clinical Chemistry.
- With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
I am active in the AACC and its Rocky Mountain local section, a Fellow of the National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry, and I serve on the board of directors of the American Board of Clinical Chemistry. I am also a member of the Academy of Clinical Laboratory Physicians and Scientists.
- Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
My best friend and partner, Dennis, is an optician with the University of Utah who has graciously tolerated our numerous relocations. We have two Tonkinese cats, Maya and Pontu, that allow us to live with and care for them, and a mixed breed dog, Calvin, whom we rescued from a shelter and is convinced that everyone who comes to the house is there to visit only him.
- Favorite activities/hobbies
I am fortunate to live in an area that offers terrific places to cycle, ski, and hike. I play guitar, like to travel, and have a renewed interest in photography.
- Favorite places you have traveled
Southern France is among my favorites as is Italy’s Amalfi coast. More locally, I’d choose the western United States for its grandeur and, as a Massachusetts native, Cape Cod is quintessential New England and will always be “home” for me.
- Favorite book/movie
It’s difficult for me to pick a single favorite book because I enjoy reading a variety of genres, but I when pressed I would have to settle on one from my childhood: “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White. I like the science fiction/science writing of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Carl Sagan and I’m also a huge fan of David Sedaris’ writings and essays.
- Most fun/adventurous thing you’ve ever done
Going skydiving when I was in college was definitely an adventure but one that I wouldn’t choose to do again! Riding my bicycle from Boston to New York City on two occasions as part of a fundraising effort for HIV/AIDS services in those communities was challenging but enormously rewarding.
- What area(s) do you specialize in?
In my current position at a university-owned, national reference laboratory I have both clinical and academic responsibilities, so I suppose the answer is a bit of everything! I often describe ARUP’s Special Chemistry laboratory as the lab that does some of the classic stalwart clinical chemistry tests as well as the new, emerging ones. Academically, I specialize in reproductive biochemistry and the education and training of laboratory professionals.
- What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
I was drawn to a career in laboratory medicine because it combined my fascination in human physiology and biochemistry and it allowed me to pursue a career in health care without having direct patient contact. Clinical chemistry was particularly appealing because I recognized that its scope and diversity would allow me to pursue all sorts of interesting questions. My interest in reproductive biochemistry developed during my postdoctoral training and was influenced by one of my mentors. I discovered my interest in education as a teaching assistant during graduate school that I then got to refine during the six years I taught laboratory medicine to undergraduates.
- What are your clinical and research interests?
Reproductive biochemistry, with a particular interest in hCG testing and clinical utility; fetal lung maturity testing; and multiplexed test development.
- What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
I hope my most important contributions are to come but, currently, I’d have to say the work I’ve done (with frequent collaborations) on hCG and its assays is the most helpful.
- Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
I find the maze of regulations that we need to deal with on a daily basis unappealing. While some make scientific sense, others strike me as arbitrary and unhelpful.
- What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
Having past students contact me after they’ve begun their careers and thanking me for holding them to a high standard has been a rewarding experience. If you have ever wanted to thank a former teacher for their efforts and haven’t done it, I encourage you to do so. It means a great deal! Also, the opportunity to help create what is now SYCL and be a part of its early development was very satisfying.
- How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
I’m afraid I’m still learning how to do this myself. I’m a believer in writing down tasks and goals and setting firm due dates when possible because it helps me spend my time more effectively. When taking work home, I try to limit myself to a prescribed number of hours to protect my personal time. I also find it’s helpful to plan time for fun and recreation and then do it! Recognizing that an individual is defined by far much more than a career is something I try to keep in mind.
- What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
I like the fact that every day is different and always brings new challenges. The clinical questions I get from laboratory staff and clinical colleagues are frequently challenging, fun to investigate, and occasionally the source of research projects. There are lots of opportunities for learning and discovery.
- What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
Personalized medicine comes to mind first and the clinical laboratory obviously plays an important role. I think we’ll also see more assay standardization and the translation of proteomic discoveries into meaningful clinical assays, particularly multiplexed assays.
- What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
The shear scope of laboratory medicine can be daunting and it grows continually so young scientists just entering the profession have a lot to learn. Building a strong foundation of knowledge can be a challenge but it’s very important. Finding the right niche for oneself is another challenge that can take a bit of time to figure out. Having a mentor to turn to is a valuable asset for these and other challenges. It may sound trite but challenges often present us with valuable opportunities.
- What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
Goals are a personal decision. However, my advice is to spend time seriously thinking about and then setting personal and professional goals for the next 1, 5, and 10 years and identifying the accomplishments needed to achieve them. Writing them down makes them more tangible and will serve as a road map. Also know that it’s okay not to achieve a specific goal you have set for yourself. The effort yields its own rewards.
- Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
My involvement with the AACC has opened numerous doors and has been professionally rewarding in many ways. In return, I like to believe that my work in the local sections I have belonged to as well as the national committees that I have served on have benefitted the membership. Presenting at the annual meeting has also been a way that I have been able to “give back” to the profession, as are my contributions to the NACB and ABCC.
- How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
I got involved in the activities of my local section and was also fortunate to be invited to join an advisory group that created what is now SYCL. Other opportunities followed. My advice for getting involved is to volunteer your efforts and then do your best at whatever it is you are asked to do. Anyone can volunteer but not everyone is willing to do the work required. Be known as a “doer” and you will be remembered.
- Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
I’ll simply share my own personal philosophy because it has served me well: Challenge yourself and you will grow.