STEMinist Profile: Amanda Loftis, Asst. Professor of Infectious Diseases

Amanda Loftis

Asst. Professor of Infectious Diseases

Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, St. Kitts (eastern Caribbean)

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
As a child, I had teachers who believed I didn’t need to know math or science because I was a girl. Luckily, I had strong family support from parents who did not believe in gender roles. My parents supported my right to equal education and transferred me to another school district, where I had better opportunities to pursue math and science. I was fascinated by biology and wanted to be a veterinarian.

I was first introduced to research during an advanced biology course in high school, and I discovered the challenges and puzzle-solving involved in research. I still became a veterinarian, but I took my training a few steps further and added a research PhD. My specialty is emerging and zoonotic infectious diseases, working with pathogens that spread between species and affect both human and animal health.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I ever worked on was the discovery of a new tick-transmitted pathogen in the USA, “Panola Mountain Ehrlichia”. We found the bacterium by pure serendipity, an unexpected discovery. We showed that the disease is found throughout the eastern USA and that it infects people, as well as white-tailed deer and goats.

Now, a few years later, scientists at several institutions, including myself, are working to develop diagnostic tools and on research to better understand its impact on both human and animal health. In today’s world, discovering an unknown, endemic, pathogen in a developed country like the USA is pretty unusual.

Role models/heroes:
My research mentor throughout my undergraduate and professional programs, Dr. William Davis (Washington State University) is, to this day, my role model. He encouraged me to grow as a scientist, trained me out of my fear of public speaking, and taught me about both the strategy and the philosophy to manage a research program successfully. I did not understand the value of many of those lessons until years later, but they were critical elements of my professional development. I continually strive to be as good a mentor for the students who join my program.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love the challenge of working on the edge of what we know about the world around us, and I feel that my work contributes meaningfully to our understanding of—and therefore our ability to improve—both human and animal health. I couldn’t do work like this in any other field except biomedical research.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Support from family, friends, and mentors can be incredibly important, especially when you are developing the training and skills you will need to succeed in your field. A good mentor will teach you skills that you are not even aware you need to learn. I don’t think your mentor necessarily has to be a woman, just someone who sees your potential, helps you identify opportunities for growth, and encourages you to go for them!

Favorite website/app:
Facebook is my main way to connect with friends, family, and colleagues. Living in a small island nation means being cut off from the world at large, and the ability to remain connected, follow friends’ life updates, and share pictures is vital to maintaining a healthy social network.

Twitter: @doclof

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