Dr. Tara C. Smith is an Associate Professor in Epidemiology at Kent State University and Adjunct Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Iowa. She received her PhD in Microbiology from the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Epidemiology at the University of Michigan. Afterward, Tara served on the faculty at the University of Iowa for about nine years before joining the faculty at Kent State. Tara is with us today to tell us all about her journey through life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science
Tara humorously describes her second job outside of science as being a bus driver to shuttle her three kids around to their respective sports, music, and other activities.
The Scientific Side
She works with bacteria that can be transferred between animals and people and often studies antibiotic resistant bacteria.
A Dose of Motivation
“Do or do not, there is no try.” by Yoda
What Got You Hooked on Science?
Tara always liked science when she was growing up, but she didn’t really think of science as a career or profession. She didn’t know any scientists growing up in rural Ohio. Her mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when she was about 6 years old, and this started her interest in human health and disease.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges
There were some major struggles when she first started as a faculty member with a new lab at the University of Iowa. This was the first time where she was the boss, had to write all the grants, make the budgets, and manage people. There were a lot of things that scientists just aren’t trained to do. She also faced challenges with trying to get funding and make progress on her tenure review process.
A Shining Success!
It’s really rewarding for Tara to see that her students are really understanding science. There are those moments where what she is teaching just clicks for someone or when a summer undergraduate student makes a great presentation at the end of their project.
Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna,Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic that Remains One of Medicine’s Greatest Mysteries by Molly Caldwell Crosby, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, The Silo Series by Hugh Howey, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Most Treasured Travel
One of Tara’s favorite places has been Mongolia. It is a really unique place with a great mix of cultures, rich history, and an incredible mix of old and new. When you go out into the country, there are small towns and nomadic herders living with their families moving around from place to place.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories
Tara has the honor of serving on the board of advisors for the Zombie Research Society. The group has thousands of members worldwide, and the board of advisors has a lot of neuroscientists since zombie-ism affects the brain, but she is the infectious disease expert. She also has a lot of funny memories of students going out for the first time to collect mucus samples from large, squealing pigs on farms.
Advice For Us All
Ask! Ask anyone for whatever you need whether it is equipment, advice, mentoring, or anything else.
Also, there is no one correct path for everyone. This is particularly a problem in academia because the mentality is often to train students for a traditional academic career, but the jobs just aren’t out there and not everyone wants that career path.
Tara C. Smith recently joined the faculty of Kent State University College of Public Health after spending 9 years at the University of Iowa, College of Public Health, where she directed the College’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases. Dr. Smith’s research focuses on zoonotic infections (infections which are transferred between animals and humans). She was the first to identify livestock-associated strains of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the United States, and has pioneered the investigation of this organism in the U.S. Dr. Smith has published over 50 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, receiving over $3 million in funding to carry out these studies. She has presented her research at numerous national and international platforms, including talks on Capitol Hill on the topic of agriculture and antibiotic resistance. Her work has been profiled in many major publications, including Science, Nature, and The New York Times. Dr. Smith is also very active in science communication and outreach. She has maintained a science blog since 2005 and has written books on Group A Streptococcus, Group B Streptococcus, and Ebola. She also writes about infectious disease for Slate.com and mic.com and is a member of the advisory board of the Zombie Research Society. She lives in rural Ohio with her partner and her three children.