When I entered Marietta College (Ohio) on a football grant-in-aid and about to become a father, I knew that my college years were going to be most challenging. However, I loved science and chose a “comprehensive science/education” major so I could teach and coach upon graduation. My academic pursuits went well; however, during my senior year, while doing student teaching, I realized that I wanted to know more about hormones, as my biology classes never sufficiently covered those hormones involved with reproduction/sex. Thus, I enrolled in the Endocrinology-Reproductive Physiology Program at the University of Wisconsin, an interdisciplinary program dealing with reproductive issues, culminating with a PhD in Reproductive Endocrinology.
My specific project focused on gonadotropin biochemistry while the courses highlighted the physiology of the reproductive system. During this time, my career goals of teaching and coaching changed to an academic research career so I then expanded my research experience by doing a post-doc in endocrinology at Cornell Medical College in Ithaca, N.Y., followed by a post-doc at Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis). It was during the latter position that I was exposed to molecular biology, specifically gonadotropin biosynthesis. I then accepted a position in the Reproductive Endocrinology Program (REP) at the University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS), led by Dr. Rees Midgley, a most innovative endocrinologist involved in the early days of radioimmunoassays, who saw the future of molecular endocrinology.
While there, I successfully wrote an R01 grant and attained tenure while maintaining my REP involvement. In fact, perhaps going back to my early days and interest in teaching, I became the director of the NIH REP Training grant. Also, relating to my teaching interests, I became active in the UMMS Admissions Committee as another of my major interests was addressing the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities.
I maintained my research through R01 renewals. However, my interest in the issue of underrepresented minorities became an equal passion as I became active nationally through national conferences and scientific organizations, including the Endocrine Society (ES). As this commitment continued to develop, combined with my knowledge of the number of endocrine-based minority health disparities, I approached Society President Susan Smith about forming a Minority Affairs Committee (MAC). She not only supported the idea but asked me to chair the committee. I agreed as long as I could identify individuals with the commitment and fortitude to stand up to the opposition as we knew that there would be some. These individuals were Drs. Frank Talamantes, Lovell Jones, Robert Harrison, and Judy Cameron. Not only did we succeed in addressing the underrepresentation through various activities but also succeeded in obtaining a grant from NIH to offer endocrine short courses at minority institutions, many of which did not offer an endocrinology course.
“I was able to help expose and teach students about hormones and their role in reproduction/sex while taking on another passion, addressing the underrepresentation of minorities.”
Thus, I was able to help expose and teach students about hormones and their role in reproduction/sex while taking on another passion, addressing the underrepresentation of minorities. I recently read a quote: “Let passion be your purpose”, which really defines my life and career goals. Fortunately for me, these two goals have come together even better than I could have imagined, i.e., as many of the minority health disparities relate directly to endocrinology. To that point, I am currently a Professor of Biology at CSU Dominguez Hills, a minority-serving institution (MSI) in Los Angeles (yes, I did make the move from cold Michigan to lovely LA!) where I teach endocrinology and minority health disparities. Also, I am the Pre-Health Advisor helping students get into the health professional schools. Based on my experience, I wrote a book entitled Mentoring and Diversity: Tips for Students and Professionals for Developing and Maintaining a Diverse Scientific Community, and am now finishing one (still untitled) on sex as an unexplored area.
Have I come full circle? Certainly, I have been fortunate over my career to successfully interface my two areas of commitment, i.e., endocrinology and diversity/inclusion so that I can now impart the importance of these areas to young people who are also interested in bettering not only the academy but also society, in general, through education and understanding.
This is most gratifying, especially since my two areas of commitment are ones that society naturally hesitates to address in a meaningful way, i.e. sex and race. These are controversial but important and we can only effectively deal with them through discussions and education! Although due to society’s “traditions,” many will choose not to have such discussions, so it has to be those of us with that commitment and passion to make it our purpose! To quote Frederick Douglass “Without struggle, there is no progress.”
I am most pleased that I asked that question many years ago, i.e. “what about hormones?” as it resulted in me becoming an academic reproductive endocrinologist successfully addressing very important issues facing science and society today.
Thomas Landefeld, PhD
Professor of Biology, Pre-Health Advisor, CSU Dominguez Hills, Carson, Calif.