Dr. Elaine Hardman graduated in 1993 with a Ph.D. in Cellular and Structural Biology. She is now a Professor Emeritus at Marshall University School of Medicine in Huntington, West Virginia.
When did you first become interested in science?
I have always enjoyed science and math and by junior high school I thought that I wanted to be either a scientist or a park ranger. However, there was no one in my small rural school (Dixie County, Florida: county population of 5,000) who had a clue how to steer me in either direction. Besides that, in the 1960’s a girl who liked science could be either a nurse or a science teacher. So I started in science education by attending Lake City Junior College and then the University of Florida. I married early (at 18 years old but had finished three years of college by then). The two children came quickly; I finally finished a B.S. (Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM) when my husband was stationed in Montgomery, AL after the youngest child was old enough for kindergarten. AUM was just starting a Medical Technology program. I decided ‘well, I really like lab work and I can always get a job’ so that is what I want to do. I loved Medical Technology as long as it was new and I was learning. Then I realized – I will be doing the same thing every day of my life.
Why did you pick The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and your program?
The choice of UT Health San Antonio was really made for me. By now my husband was stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio. I got a part time job as a Medical Technologist at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center (now called Mays Cancer Center). When my youngest child was in high school (oldest child in college), I was ready for a full time job. I found out through a friend that a Research Assistant position was open in the laboratory of Dr. Ivan Cameron, who had just received a new grant. Soon, I knew I had found my spot! After two years, the grant ended and I was encouraged to apply for graduate school. Two years and four months after entering graduate school, I defended my dissertation research (in Dec. 1992). It is not quite fair to compare my time in school with that of a typical student however since I knew what I wanted to do and actually began my dissertation research the day I entered graduate school. Most students take a couple of years to make those decisions. I also found out that the Medical Technology training was not really a detour – the clinical perspective that I could bring to the research and put into grant proposals was a definite asset.
Tell me more about your career path.
While I was in graduate school, I had a significant part in writing a Veterans Affairs merit grant that was funded and on which I had a salaried role. I was appointed as an Instructor then promoted to an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cellular and Structural Biology and continued similar work. My CV lists 17 grants that I received, as the PI, between 1991 and 2001 to fund the research, the first one in 1991 while I was still a graduate student. As much as I liked The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the city of San Antonio, I soon realized that if I stayed at the university, I would always be a ‘student’ in the eyes of my colleagues, not an independent researcher. In 2001, I was recruited to Pennington Biomedical Research Center (an independent campus of Louisiana State University) in Baton Rouge then moved to my current position at Marshall University School of Medicine in 2005. I arrived at Marshall as an Associate Professor then was promoted to Professor. My CV now lists 36 funded grants, 71 peer reviewed publications and 7 book chapters. I have served on grant review panels for the NIH, Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Tell me about your current career, what do you do?
My current position is ‘Professor Emeritus’ in the Department of Biomedical Sciences (all the Basic Sciences departments were merged to a single department) at Marshall University School of Medicine. My attempted retirement two years ago did not quite ‘take’ since we are short several faculty members but I could cut down on my time. Right now, I contribute about 25 percent effort.
What is a day like in your job?
I still teach medical, graduate and forensic science students the lipid metabolism and nutrition sections of their biochemistry and I teach a section of the Research Ethics course for graduate students. I am chairing a search committee to recruit faculty members and I am the Mentoring Chair for the ‘Center of Biomedical Research Excellence’ grant that was received this year. I do not write grant proposals and am finishing up a last manuscript – though I may write another review or two.
How did the education you get at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepare you?
My education at UT Health San Antonio gave me the skills and credentials essential to be a University Professor.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
Challenging but essential parts of this job – 1) The constant quest for research funds can be discouraging. Funding is getting tighter as researchers seek any source of funding. 2) Grant reviewing – it is so discouraging to review a perfectly good proposal with real scientific value but that I know will not get funded because there is not enough money to go around. This grant can make or break someone’s career. 3) Promotion and tenure reviews – also serious decisions that can make or break a career and are equally important to the university to promote and maintain quality faculty.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part of this job is working with students in the laboratory, increasing their skills and introducing them to science. Rewarding for both me and the students who helped with the work is finding out something no one else knows, even if it is small, until it is published.
What has been your proudest achievement?
When I started in research I wanted to do something that might provide direct benefit to patients. With my last project, a clinical trial still in the process of publication, I will report a dietary intervention that may provide a means to prevent or slow breast cancer growth or increase the benefit of chemotherapy without added toxicity.
What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice?
Be prepared to work hard, collaborate with colleagues, accept and give help. This is truly a ‘publish or perish’ field and for good reason. You may do wonderful research but if you do not tell others, you might as well not have done the research. If not published, all the money granted the researcher is wasted.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I have been a Girl Scout and loved the outdoors all my life. In retirement, I want to spend time as a campground/park host giving back to the state and national parks I have loved all my life. Because of budget shortfalls, many of the people one interacts with in a park are volunteers (such as I will be) who may assist the rangers in campground staffing, leading program, visitor centers, fee booths and basic but critical maintenance. Last spring I was able to spend 2 months working at Government Canyon State Natural Area in San Antonio as a park host. I loved it and will be back in 2019! This next phase of my life also gets me back to being a ‘park ranger’- as I considered in junior high school!