I decided not to pre-write a post for today so that I would have to find something cool at ASP 2016 to blog about. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I actually found way too much cool stuff to blog about, and then I couldn’t decide what to focus on. In the end, I just picked the two topics that I thought would be most broadly interesting to folks who couldn’t attend ASP 2016, and you’ll just have to wonder about all of the other stuff that you missed. Stay tuned next week to find out who won the Unofficial ASP 2016 Parasite Ecology Contest! Spoiler: IT IS GOING TO BE A TOUGH DECISION.
This year, the President’s Symposium and the Eminent Parasitologist Lecture were combined in one session, whose theme was “Magic Bullets and Windows of Opportunity.”
Our very own Nobel laureate, Dr. Bill Campbell, pointed out that while we have many emerging infectious diseases, we also have some “submerging” infectious diseases as the result of disease eradication efforts. But he eloquently argued that we’re not very good at identifying good anti-parasite drugs using theory, so we’re not going to get any more submerging parasites unless we embrace the humiliation of trial and error and commit to empirical drug screening. He doesn’t think that academics should be doing the drug screening, though. Drug screening should be something that pharmaceutical companies do – not because someone tells them to, but because it can be highly successful ($$$). There’s also another perk: finding good drugs can turn you into a Nobel laureate who gets to sit beside a princess at dinner.
After Bill, Jane Carlton and Frank Richards talked about the possibilities of eliminating or eradicating malaria, leishmaniasis, and onchocerciasis. These diseases disproportionately burden impoverished peoples. Even though I knew that already, Jill said something that really surprised me and illustrated the burden of these parasites in a new, tangible way: the average Indian household spends 3% of their income on mosquito repellents/control. 3% of their income! Calculate 3% of your income and imagine losing that to mosquito control. You know what I spend 3% of my income on? Electricity.
Obviously, if the mosquito repellent/control techniques work, 3% of an income might be much smaller price to pay than terrible morbidity or mortality associated with malaria. But worryingly, the efficacies of the repellents and control methods aren’t very well studied, so people may be wasting their money on these remedies. This is sadly reminiscent of the scene in Harry Potter where people are so frantic for any protection against Voldemort and the Death Eaters that they buy useless amulets and potions that from shady dealers like Mundungus. So it appears that we need an Arthur Weasley (Head of the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects) for mosquito repellent, to ensure that already disproportionately burdened peoples aren’t losing 3% of their incomes to useless junk.
Parasitology Careers Outside of Academia
A few weeks ago, I blogged about the potentially not-awesome prospects of getting a job in academia as a parasitologist. Few academic job ads contain the word “parasitologist,” and disease ecologists appear to have more options. What about the odds of getting a job outside of academia as a parasitologist? Kym Jacobson (NWFSC), Kevin Lafferty (USGS), and Timothy Geary shared their (awesome) insights in a special session Tuesday afternoon.
Here’s the take home message: you’re going to find very few ads for parasitologists, whether you’re looking for jobs in academia, government agencies or NGOs, or industry. You have much better odds of finding a job if you can sell yourself more broadly as a trophic ecologist, zoologist, microbiologist, etc.
However, it may be really easy to add parasite research into an otherwise parasite-free position. The world needs people to study emerging infectious diseases, but it may be that in order to be one of those people, you need to wear multiple hats in a job where you get to study parasites sometimes, but not all of the time.
Good luck job hunting!