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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

April 2019

Germaine Louis finds strength in the winding path

The winner of the 2019 NIEHS Spirit Lecture Award said a winding career path equipped her well for current roles as dean and researcher.

Germaine Louis, Ph.D., George Mason University “You have to learn to tell your story,” Louis advised. She told of learning to explain how each bend in her career path was a strength, not a detour. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS kicked off national Women’s History Month with the 2019 Spirit Lecture March 5 by Germaine Louis, Ph.D. She is an internationally recognized expert on the impact of environmental influences — such as endocrine disruptors, diet, and exercise — on fertility.

She also serves as Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University and is a professor in the Department of Global and Community Health.

NIEHS Deputy Director Roy Woychik, Ph.D., gave Louis a warm welcome. “Today, we are honored to recognize Dr. Louis for her many achievements, which not only include her research endeavors, but also her service to the scientific community and her dedication to mentoring the next generation of scientists,” he said.

The road less traveled

In her talk, “A Winding Path to a Rewarding Career in Public Health,” Louis emphasized the strengths that can be gained from a nonlinear career trajectory. Using herself as a case study, she explained that her career goals changed over time. “Early on, as a child, I wanted to be a nurse,” she said. Louis trained and worked as a registered nurse at Millard Fillmore Hospital, where she was first exposed to public health. She promptly fell in love with the field.

During graduate education in reproductive epidemiology at State University of New York at Buffalo, Louis was discouraged by the scarcity of training grants available to students interested in the subject. She continued to work as a nurse to support herself and her family while in graduate school.

Kembra Howdeshell, Ph.D., NTP “The Spirit Lecture Series was established in 2002 by the NIEHS Diversity Council to embody the idea that balance in one’s life is necessary to achieve greatness in any field, including science,” said Spirit Lecture Committee co-chair Kembra Howdeshell, Ph.D., from the National Toxicology Program (NTP). (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A passion for public health

In 2000, Louis was invited to be a Senior Investigator and Chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). She recalled that it was easy to say yes to the job. “Doing risky impactful work that can’t be done on the grant mechanism — it was really seducing to somebody like me.”

National Women’s History Month-March sign The Spirit Lecture is timed to coincide with National Women’s History Month. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

She also recognized that the position would enable her to encourage initiatives highlighting public health research. “It would be an opportunity to influence and advocate for not only epidemiology, but also public health in general,” she said.

Later, as a division director in NICHD, Louis helped develop training and research opportunities that she wished had been available to her as a graduate student. For example, working with the Society of Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiological Research, as well as the Canadian Institute for Health Research, she laid out a plan to enhance reproductive and perinatal epidemiology through training grants and a summer institute in reproductive and perinatal epidemiology, respectively. Louis went on to co-edit a textbook on reproductive and perinatal epidemiology that stemmed from the summer institute’s curriculum.

Invaluable experiences

Today, Louis calls upon all her previous work experiences as a nurse, professor, and researcher in her role as dean at George Mason University. She believes these varied life experiences gave her a stronger, more interdisciplinary approach that makes her a better leader, professor, and mentor.

“[Equally] important are my roles as daughter, niece, friend, colleague, wife, mother, and grandmother, as they ground my career and keep me righted as a researcher,” she said.

(Kathleen Foley is an Intramural Research and Training Award postbaccalaureate fellow in the NIEHS Receptor Biology Group.)

Germaine Louis and Veronica Godfrey Robinson, NTP Louis expressed surprise and pleasure when she was presented with the Spirit Lecture Award, by Veronica Godfrey Robinson, from NTP.
Spirit Lecture Committee members Members of the Spirit Lecture Committee posed with Louis after her talk. From left, Diane Spencer; Molly Vallant; Vicki Sutherland, Ph.D.; co-chairs Kristen Ryan, Ph.D., and Howdeshell; Louis; Robinson; Brad Collins; Suzy Osborne; Ericka Reid, Ph.D.; Angela King-Herbert, D.V.M. Not shown: Eli Ney. All are from NTP, except Osborne, Office of the Director, and Reid, Office of Science Education and Diversity.
NIEHS Deputy Director, Roy Woychik, Ph.D. Woychik noted that among Louis’s many accomplishments is her service to the scientific community and mentoring the next generation of scientists.

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