Jerri Bartholomew is a Professor in the Department of Microbiology at Oregon State University, and Director of the John L. Fryer Salmon Disease Laboratory. She oversees graduate and undergraduate researchers and runs a research program that focuses primarily on myxozoan disease in wild fish. She teaches an undergraduate course on fish disease as well as organizes a course for professionals in the field.
- How did you get to where you are today?
I followed an interest in marine biology that began when I was really young, and in college this expanded to an interest in fisheries. I got a BS from Penn State with an emphasis in Marine Sciences, and came west to Oregon State University with the thought that I would study oyster aquaculture. But during my first term in graduate school I took a microbiology class on fish diseases and was fascinated – I didn’t even know this field existed. At the end of that term I asked Dr. John Fryer if I could work in his lab and he gave me a tentative yes. My first project was looking at the virulence of Vibrio isolates with different iron sequestration profiles. Luckily for me I then assigned a research project on Ceratomyxa shasta under the mentorship of John Rohovec, who guided me through a masters degree. I stayed on for a PhD then did a post-doc at the National Fisheries Research Center in Seattle, WA, with Jim Winton. This project was on bacterial kidney disease and gave me the opportunity to work on something very different. But ultimately, I moved back to Oregon State and returned to working on myxozoans.
- What do you like most about your current job?
I enjoy the university atmosphere, the variety of research conducted across campus and all of the collaborations that enables. I also like solving puzzles and for me that is what research is – one thing leads to another and you find yourself going down pathways that you never would have imagined. I never dreamed that by working with fish parasites I would find myself studying cnidarians and polychaetes.
- When and why did you first become involved with AFS and the FHS?
I became involved with both AFS and the FHS simultaneously as a masters student. John Rohovec was newsletter editor at the time and every quarter we would manually compile the newsletter (yes, that was the pre-electronic era).
- How do you feel that FHS has influenced your career path?
On a number of levels. First, the FHS has provided a network of people across the country that have influenced me in one way or another – by opening opportunities for collaboration or influencing my scientific questions. Second, by serving the FHS (as secretary-treasurer, vice-president, and president), I became involved with national issues. During my term as president we undertook a collaboration with the USFWS that resulted in the current Blue Book. This was one of the most challenging things I have done, but it also was one of the most rewarding. Third, the meetings are important for sharing information and meeting with colleagues.
- What do you see for the future of the FHS?
We have been a leading voice in guiding fish health legislation and I hope we will continue this role in the developing U.S. aquatic animal health program. I know this is an area we struggle with, as we are a volunteer organization and other groups and agencies have more political leverage and full-time employees. I also hope to see the FHS become more international in its membership and the scope of issues it becomes involved with.
- What has been your favorite part about being a part of the FHS network?
Mostly the people. We share a common interest and that odd sense of our place in the world and because of that I’ve made some very good friends as well as good colleagues. I’ve shared many a glass of wine with Beth MacConnell, Ron Hedrick, Jim Winton and others over discussions of science, policy and life.
For the past decade I have run the listserv, and this has allowed me to keep on top of what is going on in the FHS – it gives me sort of a broad overview and I enjoy keeping in contact with everyone.
- Who were your mentors as you were an up-and-coming fish health specialist? How did they influence you?
Of course John Fryer taught me how to conduct science and write. John Rohovec taught me how to be a good judge of people and provided lessons in grantsmanship. Jim Winton and Ron Hedrick taught me about diplomacy in running a lab and about how to ask good questions and find good collaborators. Beth MacConnell tried to teach me how to say “no”, but I wasn’t a very good student.
- What would you say to yourself now, when you were going through school?
I would say that my mentors probably knew more about what was going on then I thought they did and that things really weren’t as bad as they seemed at the time. Or as Andy would say, “don’t sweat the small stuff”.
- If you mentor students currently or hire new graduates, what sort of qualities do you look for?
That is a long list, but probably begins with reliability and being a team player. When I take on a new student they meet with my entire lab and I try to gauge how this person would fit in and who they would work well with. Its always wonderful to have students that are highly production and can produce lots of publications, or who write grants that supply their own funding. But its also rewarding to have students that are highly enthusiastic and have a thirst for learning. I try to meet weekly with my students on an individual basis and I like to see them bring new ideas to the table and be able to problem solve when things are going wrong.
- Any words of wisdom to up-and-coming FHS students and new members?
Get involved! If you plan to stay in this field the people in the FHS will be your future employers and colleagues. Show that you are ambitious! Go to as many meetings as you can and present your research – and treat each talk like a job interview. Make sure that you listen to the other talks and learn to ask questions and start conversations with other presenters – you never know where that will lead. Get involved with the student section – these people will be who you will work with for the next 30 years. I know that sounds unbelievable, but it happens faster than you can ever imagine.