Thursday, April 18, 2013

April Mentor Profile: Andy Goodwin

Andy Goodwin is the Fish Health Program Manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Region 1. His job is to oversee the FWS Fish Health Centers in ID, WA, and OR and to bring fish health to the table when the FWS is involved in planning and policy decisions in this Region. For 16 years prior to September 2012, Andy was a professor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) where he oversaw 4 fish disease diagnostic laboratories, did research, taught graduate and undergraduate courses in fish health and fish physiology, mentored grad students, and was active on national and international committees involved in aquatic animal health policy.

Read on to learn more about Andy's work as well as some valuable advice for up-and-coming fish health professionals.

1. How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve been a fish fan forever. I blame my father who was an avid fisherman. I decided that it would be great to work at a fish hatchery so I got a BS in biology and (after some aquaculture consulting during college) went to work on a sportfish farm in Texas. After several years in commercial aquaculture, I decided that I needed to know a lot more about fish diseases so I went to Auburn for an MS in Fish Pathology under John Grizzle. Dr. Grizzle was a great mentor and I decided to stay on for a PhD and become a scientist. I did a non-fish, post-doc at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine and had the opportunity to work with cutting edge technology. After the post-doc I went looking for a job and ended up as an assistant professor at UAPB. Being a professor was never my ambition, but I ended up really enjoying working with students, working with fish farmers, and having opportunities to affect fish policy in the US and through the OIE. After 16 years, I realized that I was past-due for a change and found this really great job with the FWS in Portland.

2. What do you like most about your current job?
It is completely different than my job in Arkansas, but I can still use all of the things that I learned in that position. It’s also a real honor to have an opportunity to help preserve something as amazing and wonderful as the Pacific Salmon. I have really enjoyed working with the dedicated folks here at the Region 1 headquarters and with the hatchery and fish health center leaders in the field. Great people, great place to live, fabulous fish, and lots of complicated fish health policy problems to untangle.

 3. When and why did you first become involved with AFS and the FHS?
My MS Graduate Committee members were all three Snieszko Award winners and were co-editing JAAH. There was no question, from day 1, that being an active FHS member was a critical part of my FHS career.

4. How do you feel that FHS has influenced your career path?
The connections that I have made and maintained through the FHS have provided critical opportunities to learn and collaborate. Serving on FHS committees, and as FHS president (twice), got me involved in important things at important times, and it gives you credibility whenever and wherever you are trying to get things done. There are also times and places where being an FHS certified Fish Inspector and Fish Pathologist has been a real help. I would probably have gotten the UAPB assistant professor job without the FHS, but I doubt that I would have been nearly as successful in that job without the people and the opportunities that I have had through the FHS. Without the AFS, would my credentials have been good enough for my recent switch to the FWS? Maybe not!

5. What do you see for the future of the FHS?
The FHS is, and will remain, the premier organization for fish health researchers in North America. The clinical/diagnostic picture is a little less clear as veterinarians seem to be orienting toward veterinary organizations, but I am optimistic that most veterinarians that work with fish recognize that there is no better way to keep up with fish health than to be a FHS member, attend FHS meetings, read JAAH, and be active in the review and revision of the Blue Book. I would like to see the FHS become far more active in fish health policy at the national level. We rarely take advantage of opportunities to influence policy and that’s a shame. The FHS can show up at the table with the entire weight of the AFS behind us. Instead, we seem to be letting other organizations, including some without our expertise and experience, be the voice of the fish health community. We also face some challenges fitting the Blue Book into the impending development of a national fish health lab network, but there are very clear roles for the Diagnostic, Inspection, and QA/QC portions of the Blue Book.

 6. What has been your favorite part about being a part of the FHS network?
Through the connections that I have made through the FHS, I have always been able to pick up the phone and get help with research collaborations, diagnostic advice, and answers to tricky questions. My FHS credentials have also helped me to get my foot in the door in policy discussions. I also have very fond memories of FHS folks that I met at my first FHS meeting that went out of their way to help me with my career. Two that stand out from my first meeting are Ana Baya and Emmett Shotts. They would watch your bacteriology presentation and call you on anything that you didn’t have right, but right after your talk they would come find you and offer all of their expertise and resources to help you move forward. I did have a problem. They helped me fix it. That was great.

7. Who were your mentors as you were an up-and-coming fish health specialist? How did they influence you?
John Grizzle taught me how to be a good scientist and a good scientific writer. Lester Khoo (Mississippi State) taught me how to solve a diagnostic puzzle when the lab tests don’t find a pathogen. Jill Rolland (USGS, Seattle) taught me how to work with the Government (she’s younger than I am, but mentors are about how they help, not how many gray hairs they have!). Then there were quite a few great scientists that helped me with science and served as role models for how cool it could be to be a fish health person. I hesitate to make a list here because I’ll end up leaving people off, but in addition to folks that I’ve already mentioned, I’ll add –Jim Winton, Drew Mitchell, Gael Kurath, Jim Casey, Kevin Amos, and Paul Bowser. I still think of all of them as mentors. More recent folks I tend to think of as collaborators rather than mentors, but they are still great people that will drop what they are doing to help you out.

8. What would you say to yourself now, when you were going through school?
This one is tricky. I’m trying to think of advice that I could send back through a space-time wormhole that would have sent me on a better path. I can think of times when I was just lucky and fell into good things (like having John Grizzle as my major professor), but I can’t think of any major wrong turns that I should have avoided. I was fortunate that it all worked out well. I guess that I’d just have to go with “Make sure that no day goes by without you telling our wife how much you appreciate the sacrifices that she is making to put you through graduate school”. It’s either that or “Don’t sweat things, it will all work out in the end.” The latter would actually be bad advice because I’d probably be flipping burgers right now. It probably all worked out well because I did sweat it at the time!

9. If you mentor students currently or hire new graduates, what sort of qualities do you look for?
Remember that professors are looking for students who are a net gain in productivity for the lab, and that will produce good data and write good papers. Professors have grant obligations and live in a publish or perish world. They need self-starters who will be good team members, have a good work ethic, and will write publishable papers. Specific technical skills are nice, but we can teach you those. What professors need are team players that work hard and can write good papers.

10. Any words of wisdom to up-and-coming FHS students and new members?
When I ponder my mental list of young “up and coming” fish health people, the overwhelming majority have gotten where they are by establishing themselves as active and productive members of the FHS. This is what you need to do. Have a clear career goal. Do your part to make it happen, but also figure out who can help you get where you want to go, then take every opportunity to get to know those folks through participation in FHS meetings and on FHS committees. If you are the new person on the committee, volunteer for tasks and make sure that you get them done well and on time. If you can’t get on the committee, talk to the chair and see if there are areas where you can help anyway. Try to get to as many meetings as you can and give a good talk. Listen carefully to other people’s talks, then seek them out during the breaks and ask them about their work. A new student can have a great conversation with a prominent scientist if the student starts out with “I really enjoyed your talk, but I didn’t quite understand the part about XYZ, can you please explain that to me?” Ask them questions about their work and sooner or later (hopefully!) social convention will compel them to ask something about you. That’s your opening to say “I’m really fascinated by your field and I’m looking for a graduate opportunity in a laboratory like yours” or “My work is related to yours, but I’m looking for a collaboration to solve a problem that I’m having.” Have a resume in your back pocket just in case.

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