Scientific American continues its series of profiles of former Intel sciences fair finalists with a profile of Carol Fassbinder-Orth, who was a finalist in 1999. Fassbinder-Orth grew up in Elgin, Iowa, among the 100 million bees of her parents' apiary. Not surprisingly, for her science fair project she experimented with natural treatments for honeybee parasites. She was unusual among science fair finalists, though, who often come from high schools with programs to help kids interested in pursuing science careers - she took no advanced placement science classes, and only about a third of her classmates planned to attend college at all.
Fassbinder-Orth followed her interests to graduate school, where she started out by studying honeybees. Her interests shifted to birds, and her research lead her to transfer from her program at Louisiana State to transferred to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. There she studied bird immune systems, including the effects of West Nile virus infection of birds at the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center biosafety level 3 facility. Earlier this year she finished her Ph.D., taking a mere five years - amazingly fast for someone who has changed graduate programs.
That was important because, all this time, she had a sidekick—a daughter. Being the working mom of a small child is never easy, but "the hardest thing for me was paying for day care and getting by on a graduate student budget," Fassbinder-Orth says. Her husband was also just starting in his career as a park ranger, and worked odd hours (often nights and weekends). So the couple did what they could. They found a day care that opened at 6 A.M. He would pick up a second job; she would teach a night class at a community college and schedule her lab work around all of this. There was little time for anything other than work and family. "I didn't go out with lab mates much," she says. "Lunch often didn't happen." She mentored undergraduates, but if they couldn't respect her time, they were out.The day after Fassbinder-Orth defended her thesis, she and her family headed to Omaha, Nebraska, where she had a job lined up at Creighton University:
She had interviewed for a professorship there when she was eight months pregnant with her second child, a son, born this winter. The interviewers could not mention the elephant-size belly in the room, but "I did address it straight on, and I think it did help," says Fassbinder-Orth. She spoke of her experience juggling one child, teaching gigs and lab work, and said, simply, "I can handle this. There isn't a problem." Creighton agreed—she'll be teaching physiology and a new course on the ecology of zoonotic diseases— infections that can transfer between animals and people—this year.Hopefully, she'll find that to be the case when she starts teaching in a few months.
Earlier entries in the series:
• Mary-Dell Chilton
• Jane Richardson
Tags: Carol Fassbinder-Orth, bees, biology