Why are you a member of ASTMH?
The Society nurtured a sense of belonging, and I am now in a position where I can give back. Attending the Annual Meetings, networking with leaders from funding agencies, foundations, governmental bodies, research consortiums, etc., staying informed about the latest trends in science as well as sharing my own reseach, have made the Society feel like home.
You joined ASTMH very early in your career, when there weren't many women in science, nor in the Society. What changes have you seen in the Society?
When I joined 25 years ago, I didn't pay much attention to the ratio of women to men. Interestingly, at that time my research department was 50/50--and run by a woman. Today, women faculty are in the minority, perhaps an unexplainable phenomenon, but noticeable nonetheless.
As an aside, there are many challenges we face as researchers, and maintaining our physical and mental health is critical. In 2007, I was fortunate to meet the founder of Choi Kwang Do Martial Art International, Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi, and I engaged him in the fight against malaria. I have since earned my Black Belt and daily martial arts training gives me the mental strength no matter what the circumstances.
You established the highly successful International Center for Malaria Research, Education and Development (ICMRED) at Emory's Vaccine Center and Yerkes National Primate Center since 1998. What role has the Society and its network of members had in helping you build this program?
As a conduit for networking, the Society and its members have been directly or indirectly supportive in our efforts to establish ICMRED, affiliated with the Department of Medicine and Division of Infectious Diseases, which has dedicated ASTMH members. The Annual Meeting remains "the place" for sharing research ideas, developing collaborations and following up.
Today's early career investigators are facing formidable research funding challenges. How do you think the Society can help them manage through these uncertain career times?
Mentorship programs can help. I thrive on being able to look up to colleagues (both senior and junior) who provide valuable lessons, encouragement and direction. They keep me in touch with a changing world, new technologies and generational differences, among other aspects.
What skill set will the next generation of ASTMH leaders need?
Especially for the Society, with members all over the world in several time zones, the ability to embrace and utilize new technologies to expedite communication and collaboration is critical. Some senior colleagues have resisted these new tools, instead using old-fashioned processes, but fortunately, many junior colleagues have embraced these more efficient technologies.
You have been an "activist-scientist" long before this term was used. What moved you to set up Malaria Foundation International (MFI, also known as the Malaria Foundation)?
In 1991, when I had the idea to create MFI, malaria received virtually no coverage. I took this project on during a leadership program in New York City, thinking no one would want to be left out of such a life-changing project--ending malaria. While malaria research was moving much too slow due to inadequate funding, it was easy to engage a team of scientific advisors for this project.
One year later, MFI was the only non-profit organization with a focus on malaria. In 1995, we launched www.malaria.org; it quickly became the leading provider of malaria information. We knew we were making a difference when the Malaria Fact Pack, created in 1997, became a widely used learning tool by the NIH, the media and others. Since then many new advocates, foundations, funding bodies and key individuals came on board, developing new initiatives. The Internet is now flooded with malaria information and opportunities.
At the ASTMH's 2006 Annual Meeting, Emory and MFI launched the End Malaria-Blue Ribbon campaign, promoting Student Leaders Against Malaria and shifting our attention to the importance of malaria education and training to engage the next generation of leaders.
The MFI board of trustees and business advisors sometimes assess whether it is time to quit in the face of so much activity, but the answer is always NO. The global malaria problem is so big that there is always room for more focused attention. Those involved with MFI have a passion for and identity with the mission "to facilitate the development and implementation of solutions to the health, economic and development issues caused by malaria."
Former Congressman and champion for research John Edward Porter (R-IL) has publicly stated that he believes that funding for research is under attack. You have long been an active advocate for research funding. Why are there so few of you?
Being an advocate does require some time away from your research or personal life. And not everyone is cut out to be an advocate. However, anyone can learn to become engaged at a level that is comfortable for him/her, but it takes a willingness to be fearless. It can be quite rewarding but requires responsibility and commitment and getting out of one's comfort zone.
ASTMH is active on Capitol Hill. What can we do to engage more of our members in advocacy?
Since the launch of the End Malaria-Blue Ribbon campaign at ASTMH's 2006 Annual Meeting, other organizations have shifted their focus to ending malaria. ASTMH has been a facilitator of this important shift. Members must create and welcome opportunities like this. It's always a challenge to imagine what programs will make the most difference, but we need to support the individuals and organizations that have a deep passion and potential to make a groundbreaking difference over the long haul.
Has advocacy worked for malaria research funding?
With respect to members of professional scientific society, is face-to-face communication as important as it was, given so many social media platforms are in use by students and faculty?
Face-to-face interaction is critical and will remain so as in the development of important friendships and working relationships. But the Internet offers a similar opportunity to be engaged and can be a valuable tool when meeting in person is not an option.