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Jessica Houston (NMSU)

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About this episode

#5 — Jessica Houston chats to Peter O’Toole about developing her own niche as a new PI, while balancing this with a busy family home life. She discusses her new appointment as president-elect for the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry (ISAC), and the important role societies can play in science. She recalls her early career developing her research, and how she knew industry wasn’t for her! Jessica also chats about living in Japan as a Fulbright scholar for 6 months, as well as some more difficult times in her career.

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This is an automated transcript and may not be 100% accurate.

Intro/Outro (00:00:00):
Welcome to Flow Stars, candid conversations between Dr. Peter O’Toole and the big hitters of Flow cytometry brought to you by Beckman Colter at Bitesize Bio.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:11):
Today on Flow Stars. I’m joined by Jessica Houston, Associate Professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering at New Mexico State University and President Elect of ISAC. And we discuss the difficulties of finding your feet as a new PI,

Jessica Houston (00:00:26):
You know, sometimes finding your own niche as a faculty member can be tricky, cuz you don’t wanna do what your advisor’s doing or you don’t want to, you know, like be perceived as your copying or piggybacking or whatever

Peter O’Toole (00:00:38):
Right through to her successful fullbright scholarship application,

Jessica Houston (00:00:43):
I applied and got it. I didn’t think I would get that grant, but I did get it on that first try. And I told, we told our kids like, look, we’re moving to Japan for for six months.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:52):
And we go back to the start of her career to hear about her early switch from industrial engineering to chemical engineering.

Jessica Houston (00:00:59):
To be honest, that that experience made me think like, Nope, this is not what I wanna do. I don’t wanna walk around a plant with the hard hats and I, this is not for me. So at that point, I, I looked at research opportunities in the department

Peter O’Toole (00:01:14):
To how she was able to balance work and family life more recently,

Jessica Houston (00:01:19):
We really have had important support over the years with my in-laws as well as my parents, as well as their aunts and uncles that help. So we have family that can work, can be with them if we can’t. For example, both of us are traveling

Peter O’Toole (00:01:35):
All on this episode of Flow Stars. Hi, I’m Peter O’Toole from the University of York and today on Flow Stars I’m join joined by Jessica Houston from the New Mexico State University. Oh, and should I say President Elect for ISAC Jessica? How are you today?

Jessica Houston (00:01:55):
I’m doing really well. Thanks for having me.

Peter O’Toole (00:01:57):
Nice. Thank you for saying yes to come and got it. President elect.

Jessica Houston (00:02:02):
Yes,

Peter O’Toole (00:02:04):
At that. That’s I that’s a big deal, but the big deal is to come.

Jessica Houston (00:02:08):
Yeah, it’s, it’s a big role. It’s gonna be a lot of work. But I think I’m geared up for it. You know, I’ve been with ISAC for a long time now and I guess I could see it coming, but I didn’t, you know, you’d never expect expect it, but here it is.

Peter O’Toole (00:02:24):
well, well, very many congratulations. It’s a very honorable position as well. Very prestigious position within ISAC. For those who maybe not familiar with ISAC, do you wanna just describe what ISAC is?

Jessica Houston (00:02:35):
Yeah. So ISAC stands for the International Society for the Advancement of Cytometry. Maybe a lot of people watching would know, but we are about a 2000 person society. We are composed of a lot of members that have interest in quantitative cell sciences. So that ranges, that ranges from people who are working in core facilities with flow cytometry, instrumentation, and people that are in academia studying or utilizing flow cytometry as a tool to understand something in their, you know, biological systems people that are might more be more clinically inclined that are utilizing it as a diagnostic means for things like immuno genotyping. So it’s a society that welcomes all people that are interested in, in that area, in this big field. And we have a council, we have we run the annual Cyto meeting. We have a journal Cytometry A So we do a lot of stuff.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:33):
I, do know, I’ve just talked. Cause you said there are lots of sections, lots of working groups. I, I bet you don’t have an answer for this. So this is maybe unfair, but do you have a feel for how many different people are actually helping via the committees and sections?

Jessica Houston (00:03:50):
Yeah. Wow. That’s a good question. I should know the number because we have a lot of volunteers. I mean, if you look at our committees, there might be about 30 or so we have, and with, within each committee you may have about anywhere between five to 15, more or more people participating, depending on it’s a, it’s a larger task force or smaller. And so so it’s, it’s a, it’s a lot of, you know, and there’s a lot of overlap. Some people are on many different committees, but I’d say we have like, you know, basically a, a good body of, of volunteers. And I, I wouldn’t know what to guess in terms of numbers or like percentage relative to like the overall membership, but it’s, it’s certainly, it’s certainly,

Peter O’Toole (00:04:37):
Yeah, just, just working on those, those guess you must have 150 200 different volunteers, which is yeah. Shows the community spirit, I think. And the community willingness to support ISAC.

Jessica Houston (00:04:53):
Yeah. Right. It, it is. It’s very community focused and you know, the times that I’ve when I first started with the society to, to where it is now, I’ve noticed, you know, that there’s, there’s always a group of people that are always coming in, always interested. And once they get in, they feel, they seem hooked, hooked on it. Like, oh, this is, this is a great society. I like the people in it. I like, you know, the meeting. And so I wanna be part of it. And so I want to join this committee or that, so, yeah. And, and the fact that it being international very much international, you would think that makes it a little more clunky in terms of how to get people together. But it, it does, it works. And you know, we’re seeing now a lot of expansion to other parts of the world, a lot more expansion in Latin America, which is a great thing. So

Peter O’Toole (00:05:44):
I’m just thinking about all those committee meetings, where you have people in Australia, Europe, America, and someone’s always going to be rather inconvenient, but everyone still turns up.

Jessica Houston (00:05:56):
People show up. In fact, we, you know, we had a committee meeting yesterday and we had somebody who was, you know, at, on, at 2:30 AM. So that’s dedication. And I mean, I, I lived in Japan for some time with my family doing, I did a Fulbright and I remember thinking like, oh great, I’m gonna have to do these set the like ISAC committee meetings. And yeah, I would just get up early. It would be up at like, I know 4:00 AM or 5:00 AM, but you do. And you know, it’s you, we have to work and maybe, you know, make a compromise, sometimes have meetings at different times to try to work with the time zone. But that’s what you do.

Peter O’Toole (00:06:33):
I, I, I’m just thinking we’ll come back to ISAC in a minute, but actually before we leave ISAC, I’m just thinking back on the past presidents I can think of. Yeah. You can be one of the youngest ever.

Jessica Houston (00:06:44):
I might, I was somebody brought that up to me and I thought, yeah, probably I, I don’t, I mean, we have, so Jonni and then Rachel you know, the most immediate yeah. Then Paul Paul Wallace. And we had John Nolan. I don’t think maybe he was closer in age to me. Yeah. When he was president, but maybe perhaps I don’t mind saying my age. I’m 45. So so maybe, I don’t know.

Peter O’Toole (00:07:11):
Yeah, I do. I’m just going back with Paul Smith, Andreas. Yeah, it goes

Jessica Houston (00:07:16):
Right. Andreas, Andrea close,

Peter O’Toole (00:07:21):
Close. So then, so, so this is 45. There you are becoming president of ISAC, what got you interested in science to start with?

Jessica Houston (00:07:31):
Yeah. So that goes back to high school. I, you know, I, I think I was always, you know, inclined in more of the stem fields in terms of like interest area. So I was not very much into arts or, you know, history or those types of social sciences. I was more liked math. I think I did well in math and I really in high school had a great biology teacher. And so we have these AP courses, which you could get college credit for. So I tested into a, you know, bio AP class and I just loved it. And she, at the time she, she put me in touch with a local in, in my, I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. So in Santa Fe there’s some, a little bit of biotech, but Genzyme was one of the companies that was, you know, that had a headquarters in, in Santa Fe and they were doing samples, amniocentesis samples. And they were just basically doing genetic profiling with samples that they’d get from women all over the country. And so my teacher set me up with an internship there at Genzyme, and that’s where I learned cell col you know, as a high school student, you learn like cell culture, you know, what it, what it look looks like to do, you know, a little bit of genetics stuff. And so that was fun. And I was really into it. I ended up being engineering, not, you know, not biology. So

Peter O’Toole (00:08:57):
I, I was going to ask that question. So at the age of 16, 17, where did you see your career going at that point?

Jessica Houston (00:09:05):
Yeah, at that point I did, I just knew I was going to college. I just knew I was gonna go to the university. We, my family, you know, couldn’t afford to really pay or help me pay to help me get to a, a really out of state, more elite school. So I end up coming to the state school, which is, you know, N M S U New Mexico state, which is where I work now. And so, but I was an undergraduate here. And at the time my dad, who is an engineer at Los Alamos National lab recommended to me, I try chemical engineering because it kind of is somewhat close to bio, you know, bioengineering, which is what I started getting interested in and started learning about. Of course I was learning what genetic engineering was. And then I, you know, and this was in the like mid nineties. And I was basically starting to kind of get a, a sense of that field. And I took, I ended up joining a chemical engineering department and learned that it was completely different than bioengineering because, you know, it was, it’s basically thermodynamics it’s fluid mechanics. It’s, you know, it’s really, at that time was still focused on teaching students to be prepared for industries like oil and gas and, and chemical industry like Dow chemical DuPont, Chevron, Exxon. So it was really, it’s, it’s, it’s like a, you know, a curriculum made for students that are gonna be process engineers. And so so that was kind of eye opening, but I stuck with it because I knew that it, I liked the challenge and I just knew there was really nothing else I could think of that I would want to do. So I did it. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:10:41):
So at that point, were you thinking you of your career could possibly go into the more chemical

Jessica Houston (00:10:46):
I did area

Peter O’Toole (00:10:47):
With Defaulting thought?

Jessica Houston (00:10:47):
I, yeah, I, I mean, I, I could have been working on a, a bleach factory or, you know, I, I actually did an internship with Archer Daniels, Midland ADM. That’s a huge company in the Midwest. And I lived in Illinois and they, I worked at a corn plant. That’s where they took corn and they, you know, isolated, different parts of the corn to do,uto use it for different things. For example, they were had these enzyme columns, they were using it to make high fructose corn syrup. So it was like a big,uand they also took out protein to do that, something with the protein of the corn. So it was really a huge plant. And I did an intern there, but to, to be honest, that that experience made me think like, Nope, this is not what I wanna do. I don’t wanna walk around a plant with the hard hats and I, this is not for me. So at that point, I, I looked at research opportunities in the department and started in research.

Peter O’Toole (00:11:40):
I, I, I love the idea of working in a, a career in bleach, which, which sure would never be a career. Your career must fade really fast

Jessica Houston (00:11:48):
If it’s in bleach.

Peter O’Toole (00:11:49):
That’s

Jessica Houston (00:11:49):
A really, I know, and cuz I had chemical engineering friends that did that and they were telling me about their job. And I was like, no, I don’t think so.

Peter O’Toole (00:11:57):
Yeah, very sterile anyway, so too many bleach, there really are too many bleach jokes to go through this so what got you back into the light? So obviously that wasn’t for you. So you didn’t wanna wear the hair hard hats. You obviously founded the white coat and goggles instead and right. And blue over issues. So how did you get back into life sciences?

Jessica Houston (00:12:17):
Yeah, so in our department, in chemical engineering, we had a faculty member. Her name was Sarah Harkham and she was doing a lot of interesting stuff with E coli as a model system. So she was using E coli as a model system and they were, she was doing some things that were doing treatments of amino acids in the E coli. And all of her whole project was the focus was was if I can recall a kind of a bio processing focus. So her objectives were, you know, developing the model system of e coli to enhance their ability to be used as, you know, as in bioprocessing. So whatever that might be, cuz I think, you know, chemical engineers at the time they were in bio, like bio was a big part of chemical engineering. Yeah. But it’s a big part for like scale up, for example, like using E coli to be, to make insulin right. Or big fermentation processes where you use biological systems to, to make something, you know, whatever engineering you’re doing in the genetics to produce whatever protein outcome. So she did that research here in our department and I began working for her and I thought it was really cool cuz I was doing like these mini preps and just learning a little bit more about like, you know, sys bio bio as a, as a part of chemical engineering. And so after I worked for her, then I knew I’m gonna go to graduate school. So this is at this point, I know that grad that it’s gonna be a graduate school trajectory for me. Not a, just not just an industry job. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:13:51):
So where’d you go for your PhD?

Jessica Houston (00:13:53):
So then I went to Texas A and M so Texas A and M university in college station, Texas. And at actually there’s a reason I went to Texas and that’s cuz at the time I was getting married and my husband who was also in he was in biochemistry, was already at UT getting a graduate degree. So he, he and I met at N M S U and then he moved to Texas. We lived apart for some time and then I, I knew I was going to graduate school. So I looked around at Universities and found Texas A and M which a program I really liked. And I ended up doing some really cool graduate work. That was what I had not expected at all, like a total different field. And I it was all in a chemical engineering department, but that’s when I started branching into optics and, and more optical engineering stuff.

Peter O’Toole (00:14:44):
Okay. So, so actually I think, I dunno, I presume this is your husband on this picture.

Jessica Houston (00:14:49):
Yes. So that’s Kevin

Peter O’Toole (00:14:51):
For those who are listening, can you describe the picture for us?

Jessica Houston (00:14:54):
Yeah. This is a recent picture. We took only a couple weeks ago. We came, went to Houston, Texas to watch the Houston Astros play and that’s at the game. That’s Kevin kind of in the, between two of my, our sons Joaquin is on his right and Caleb’s on his left near me. And then our daughter, her name is Keralina. She’s there too, but we have this big love for Houston because you know, I can tell the rest of my story, but we ended up living in Houston for some time before we moved back to New Mexico. We’re big, we’re big baseball fans.

Peter O’Toole (00:15:25):
And that was Baylor college of medicine that you went to.

Jessica Houston (00:15:28):
I was there. Yeah. I was at Baylor. I did some time also at MD Anderson. Yeah. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:15:35):
So, so, so, okay. So you were getting into optics interested. We’re still not a flow cytometry yet.

Jessica Houston (00:15:41):
It wasn’t flow yet. It was not. And so I was in graduate school in the very early two thousands. And I found this advisor in the chemical engineering department. Her name was Eva Sevick and Eva was one of the greatest advisors, you know, I’ve ever worked with. She was building this research program all focused on the area of frequency, domain, photon migration. And what that basically is, is using near Infra light as a means to interrogate dense and deep tissues. Mm-Hmm . And so, as we know, near for light has a propensity to go deeper in the tissue cuz there’s more scattering and less absorption and blood and melanin and water, so it can scatter deeply. So back then she was developing this and we call it frequency domain, cuz we were modulating the laser at like radio frequencies and measuring the propagation of near infrared light into deep tissue and then detecting the light as it propagated back out as a means to try to characterize the tissues itself. So let’s say it’s a tumor, the heterogeneity within the tissue and it’s a challenging field because as you know all of the imaging modalities out there, whether that be x-ray CT, MRI ultrasound do a much better job because they can actually, you know, those types, those sources of radiation will very nicely be detected deep and whereas light is difficult. So, but we were developing a tool to do that. And she started working with people at MD Anderson. So we could do this in small animals. And then she eventually went to Baylor where we were doing in actually clinical studies with women to try to detect. And, and so so that was where I’ve started, you know, learning a little bit more about biomedical optics about fluorescence contrast agents, drug delivery into deep tissues using light you know, using light and lasers and, and detectors and all of that. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:17:43):
Still not on a flow cytometer though. so what was, so where, where was your first interaction with the flow cytometer?

Jessica Houston (00:17:49):
So that was in as a postdoc. So then that takes me to after we graduated ke Kevin and I decided to start a family and we wanted to come back to New Mexico cuz that’s, we’re closer to our families and we wanted some extra support and being that we were both had a PhD there, you know, the state of New Mexico doesn’t have a whole lot of industry for PhD. We have our national labs, we have our universities, we have some biotech kind of happening, just not a lot, but we knew that Los Alamo National lab would be a place where we could both work and we found positions there. And I, and that’s when I first got into flow. Interestingly, when I interviewed at Los Alamo, I was interviewing for a job in the weapons program. So there’s two facets of Los Alamos national lab. There’s the side that does more science and engineering. And then there’s the side. That’s very much focused on the nuclear non-proliferation stuff and like what we would say weapons. So I was interviewing for a position in a division there and a person from the National Flow Cytometry Research resource, the NFCR, the time came to my talk and he said, his name is John Martin. And I’ll never forget. John Martin went back to the director of the flow resource at the time, was Jim Freyer saying, Jim, you might be interested in this person because she’s interviewing for this job, but she would be fit really nice in the NFCR. And so that’s when they reached out to me and I said, oh, I didn’t realize there was this big flow cytometry group and you know, people that are doing biomedical optics, which is right at my alley. And so that’s when I switched over and, and got the job there, that’s when I started flow. So that was probably 2006. And at the time Jim Jett was still involved in the flow resource, but it was Jim Freyer who was the director. Okay.

Peter O’Toole (00:19:37):
So this a picture for back then just get a, I haven’t got a description on this picture, but

Jessica Houston (00:19:43):
That’s a picture for graduate from graduate school. So that’s when I first, you know, was doing stuff like that with, you know, okay. Google got in a CSCOPE we got a function generator, moding, laser, that type of thing. I never thought was chemical engineering, but I was in this chemical engineering lab doing that stuff. And you would think that it would be more physics or electrical engineering or, but yeah, that’s graduate school. And then I think there’s another one that I have it from Los Alamos

Peter O’Toole (00:20:09):
I I’m gonna have to guess which one that is now.

Jessica Houston (00:20:14):
Yeah. Oh, there we go. That’s Los Alamos pic that’s the lab that I worked in as a post. So right behind you is a big flow cytometer can you see the big laser? There’s a, you know, right by the door behind you, there’s a long Spectra-Physics laser, an argon ion you. And there’s, you know, there’s a flow cell there there’s lots of there’s a function generators. Some aScopes there’s a lot of mixing boards there that we were doing some analog mixing. So I worked on this tool. That was a what we called the, the, we called it the phase, the phase system, but it basically is a lifetime flow cytometer. Yeah. The flow cytometer that can measure fluorescence lifetimes. Yeah. Wow. I noticed the cables going over to the right or over that’s. Those are cables that connect into a data acquisition system that was built at Los Alamo almost. So we had we were trying to do real time analysis and of lifetime and yeah. And that built, that instrument was actually, when I got there, it was kind of starting to collect some dust and I said, what’s going on with this? And they told me, oh, the history about it. And the history is really great. I mean, this, that instrument was originally designed and built by John Steincamp. So Dr. John Steincamp worked on it. He’s really the brainchild of lifetime cytometry and Harry Chrisman as well. So him and Harry Chrisman and I I’ve met both of them actually. And they came to Los Alamos during the time I was there. And they both were used at a lot. Harry had a lot of interesting applications for measuring lifetimes and cells. And John was really, you know, a lot of the engineering and developing the and re and he was so meticulous, his lab notebooks were in that lab. And I would read through his lab notebooks and they had these like perfect descriptions of what he was doing and like very, very careful calibration and optimization of that instrument. It was really interesting.

Peter O’Toole (00:22:12):
Yeah. I say for those listing the picture isn’t anything like you resemble a flow cytometer today. There, there are more, it looks more like a telephone circuit switchboard with more cables coming in and out it’s and a ton of spaghetti black spaghetti of the wires. Absolutely. Everywhere. Yeah, by the time I got in, I was in the Moflow Mo flow generation where there was a switchboard and wires, but nothing as complicated as that looks. Yeah. But I suppose quite literally, that was a lifetime ago. ah, sorry,

Jessica Houston (00:22:51):
Dad joke before those days.

Peter O’Toole (00:22:54):
So what was your first commercial flow cytometer can you remember?

Jessica Houston (00:22:57):
Yeah. there, the, it was a FACS caliber, the caliber, because we were right in that same lab, you don’t see it, but on the other side, Los Alamos, by that time had acquired a lot of a lot more modern. We had an LSR two, we had two calibers, they had a, an old vantage what else were they getting at the time? I think they ended up getting an accuri and so there weren’t a lot of really the new stuff until I left. And then they acquired more new stuff cuz by now I know they have kind of a Sony system, they had an imaging cytometry system. But, but we were, we were still at the time really working, using the caliber a lot, a lot of the users in the division had were, you know, running samples on that. I’m trying to think if I’m missing one of them,

Peter O’Toole (00:23:46):
I don’t caliber was my first. And then I went to Cyan actually. So the first Cyan that came out, which were

Jessica Houston (00:23:52):
Okay

Peter O’Toole (00:23:53):
Revolutionary at the time, really small and super, super easy to use, certainly in our hands, they were, they were reliable in that case. So you are now not just involved in the academic side of the Optic fluidics, the bio probes, fluid dynamics, which are all those skills you’ve brought up. So you, you brought up with, through your PhD, postdoc research days are now still with it, but you also run a core facility there as well.

Jessica Houston (00:24:24):
I actually don’t really because at our university we we don’t have a lot of people that will, that necessarily use it. I mean, we’re a state university, we’re more FOC we’re engineering, ag strengths. We’re kind of the land grant university, which means we serve, you know, all the students from the state, our university is about roughly 14,000 students. It’s not huge, but in general we don’t have like, we’re not, we don’t, we’re not near a me. Well, we are near an osteopathic medical school, but we’re not, we don’t have a medical school on campus nor a vet school. So there isn’t like the critical mass of users to really create a cytometry core. There are, we do have like a microscopy core on campus and then there’s like kind of another quantitative science core where we have some lots of mass spec and some GC stuff. But what I do with my cytometers cuz I’ve acquired them over the years for my own needs is that I, I just welcome users if they need. So like for example, there’s biology professor and he reached out to me recently, so I can use your flow systems and we’ll train him on them, you know, we’ll help them with it and then they can use ’em. So, so that’s kind of how I’d done it. And, and usually it’s not overwhelming. There’s not a, like a lot of people that, where we, it wouldn’t be manageable or where we’d need kind of the more infrastructure that a, a resource lab would need. Like the, the key training people and, you know, the educational component and all that.

Peter O’Toole (00:25:52):
That’s very similar, I guess, of, of how core facilities would’ve started, you know, cause it wasn’t a user base necessarily for them. They would’ve had it for their own primary research with development R and D and then the academics start to come and want to use it. And there’s that builds I just watched this base. Yeah. They must have more biological research there just needing I the bacterialologists, the, the yeast, the fungi, the algi, you know, beside the cell biologist, surely they’re using the flow cytometer site. Yes. Need you need to get them back in there and using it,

Jessica Houston (00:26:26):
Right. Yeah. Yeah. In fact, yeah. I mean, even the people that I work with and, you know, I’ll collaborate with people or just in other realms of the university and they’re like, oh yeah, I know I wanna use your flow for this project or that. And then, you know, people get so on a track of what they know and then, you know, you gotta sometimes breaking ’em away, really rec letting them recognize, Hey, look, this, this could be a way to characterize what you’re trying to do.

Peter O’Toole (00:26:53):
So you sent another picture, which probably act at this point of yourself. Yeah.

Jessica Houston (00:26:58):
So that was taken with my very first PhD student. So I was a very junior faculty. I was starting off and I, I thought, what am I gonna do? Right? You you’re in this faculty position now and you have to run a research program or have, you know, this bright, brilliant research idea to write grants, to get money for. And what I did is I told Jim Freyer at the Los Alamos, I said, look, I wanna continue lifetime. You know, and the only way I can continue lifetime is just to basically replicate what I was doing there as a postoc. And he said, go for it. You know, sometimes finding your own niche as a faculty member can be tricky, cuz you don’t wanna do what your advisor’s doing or you don’t wanna, you know, like be perceived as your copying or piggybacking or whatever. But he wasn’t, you know, nobody was really doing that ALS except for me as a postdoc. And at the time in Los Alamos, a lot of our members were kind of doing, gonna branch off into other things. And so I took some of the instrumentation down with me, N M S U, they gifted me and I started building a lifetime cytometer there and we built it with my graduate student Rowan. He’s now works at a microscopy core in Mississippi. But he, he and I started assembling that we just, we were, I had a lab full of nothing and I came to N M U and they said, here’s your lab, an old sync, you know, nothing, nothing there. So I had to take these, this old instrument and begin to rebuild it and basically ma do develop this cytometry system.

Peter O’Toole (00:28:29):
So here’s your first PhD student. So a small group starting back. How, how intimidating was it to start your own academic group and have your first students and so forth? How, how did that feel? That’s quite a big step

Jessica Houston (00:28:46):
It’s yeah. It’s, it’s very scary. It was, I mean, it was, you feel like a deer in the headlights, like what do I do now? You just know the expectations, right? And the expectations are to bring in lots of grant money to publish, to publish as much as you can in high impact papers to get your students graduated past a master’s past a PhD degree to teach all these courses that we need you to teach, to act, to participate in service activities. So, you know, you have all these responsibilities and all you can do is just time manage as best you can. And so that’s all I did is I just tried to do that, you know? And then there’s the lingering fear of what if this project doesn’t work or what are we gonna do next? Or how do I know if I’m gonna come up with a good idea, a bright idea to, to take the next step. And, and that’s when you rely on your student and like how, how they are and their, you know, their ideas and you guide them through that and you help them read the literature and papers. And it’s tough. It’s tough. You wear a lot of hats. You know, the mentorship hat is hat is really tough because getting students to learn what it’s like to be a researcher to do a PhD degree, but I’ve always surrounded myself with people that are really helpful. Like I continue to collaborate with some people from Los Alamos, for example, Mark Niver, who is now Milton biotech. He does all the data work analysis stuff, and he’s been great. He’s like been, you know, big part of like the stuff we’ve done, cuz it’s the data system that we really rely on for lifetime analysis and just other people in general, like even Kevin, my husband, we, he has a lot of good biology that could utilize that we could use these applications for the lifetime instrument. But yeah, it is back to your question. It’s, it’s kind of nervewracking and stressful.

Peter O’Toole (00:30:33):
You had the end of one at that point, your, your group has growing. So I presume this is your

Jessica Houston (00:30:39):
Yeah. So that’s kind of a more recent group picture. It’s, it’s kind of gotten bigger and smaller over the years. One of my, I have a postdoc there on the end, Jesse is in the black shirt and then I have undergraduates, I have two graduate students in the front, Samantha and Ark, Ark just graduate with master’s degree and he is working for SciTech now. Wow. So he, yeah, so he’s the guy right in the middle. And then the people behind him are some undergrads and then I’m kind of hiding back there too. But yeah, that was more recent grad, a picture of my group in the past. I’ve had bigger groups where I’ve had like four to five graduate students, a postdoc I’ve had like at sometimes as much as seven undergraduates. So, and then now, right right now my group’s actually kind of small. I only have one graduate student, one post right now, but there’s always undergraduates that wanna do research so they can be really helpful cuz they’re all very smart and they, but it takes a lot of work to train an undergrad cuz then they do research with you for a semester and then they say, okay, thanks. You know, and then they go on their way. So the investment in time is tough with undergraduate students.

Peter O’Toole (00:31:44):
Yeah, no, I, I fully appreciate that the time effort in to get the reward back, which doesn’t always follow. But, and so thinking of undergraduates is also the importance of teaching and not just teaching undergraduates necessarily, but teaching more globally. Yes. So you said again, you sent loads of brilliant pictures. So could you describe what’s in this picture for those listening?

Jessica Houston (00:32:05):
Yeah. So one of the university was doing kind of a promo on active learning. And so this is one of our classrooms on campus. That’s we call an active learning classroom cuz the walls are whiteboard walls and the students sit around and round tables and they each have like a monitor and laptops for each of their round tables. So it’s geared more for them to be doing something rather than just sitting passively listening to a lecture. So what I was doing there is I was having them do teamwork and then I was walking around the classroom, helping them as they were doing on the whiteboard solving the, what we call the Navier Stokes equation. So in fluid mechanics, there’s a big momentum balance that you do to understand how velocity profiles change and pressure differentials change. So like, you know, for example like how airplane gets its lift or how we, we, we use it to characterize also flow through a pipe, so water flow through a pipe. So that’s the basis of LaMer flow. Right. And LaMer. So I was working on an equation there where we were learning how to balance momentum, or it might have been an energy balance on that one. But yeah, I I do a lot of teaching. That’s part of chemical engineering is teaching different classes.

Peter O’Toole (00:33:19):
I’m thinking now you’ve got a lot of teaching. Your group fluctuates in size, but can be 6, 7, 8 people in your research group, you’re writing grants. You’re publishing, you’ve said yourself, you’re only 45 and you have three children. Yes. and the ages of those I may ask

Jessica Houston (00:33:40):
Right now they’re 15, 13 and 10.

Peter O’Toole (00:33:44):
So a lot of this career has been developed alongside balancing your family life as well.

Jessica Houston (00:33:50):
Right.

Peter O’Toole (00:33:52):
How have you gone about that? Any tips and or pick for people there thinking, well, I, you know, I want a successful scientific career like yourself. I want a family. How do you balance all that?

Jessica Houston (00:34:05):
I some, I get that question a lot and it’s difficult to answer cuz I don’t know how I think I take it day to day. It doesn’t come without sacrifice. You know, there are times I’ve traveled back to the last meeting in Philadelphia. My kids were like, mom, why can’t we go with you? And we are Kevin. And I just said, well, it’s, it’s just a quick trip. I’m gonna be busy the whole time. And, and so so there are times we I’ll have to leave them. But I I’m thankful for the family and support because we really have had important support over the years with my in-laws as well as my parents, as well as their aunts and uncles that help. So we have family that can work, can be with them if we can’t. For example, both of us are traveling or, and over the time of, you know, going through tenure was tough, but we you know, if we’re not at work, we’re just home with them. It’s, you know, you have to just know that there’s not a lot of like your own personal time. It’s just, you’re with family you’re with your kids or you, your you’re at work. And you know, COVID changed things a little bit because we are home a lot with them and we stayed home with them and they liked it. And I like it too. And you know, I technically could do a lot of stuff from home. I can’t be in the lab and like watching the students or, but I can do stuff from home with the kids there and, and now they’re older, so they’re more self-sufficient and you know, they, they don’t really need the hand holding, but yeah, I have to owe it a lot to Kevin, my husband, cuz he, he was really stepped up. He’s not quite as busy as me. I know his career’s kind of been a little bit different. He, he does he’s a biochemistry professor. He does a lot of publishing and grant writing and all of that. And he’s like an associate department head, but he’s not much into the society work like I am. So he doesn’t have that stuff that, to, that he’s doing.

Peter O’Toole (00:35:55):
That’s a good question. Actually. How much time would you say you actually put towards the, the society activities? Do you have a feel

Jessica Houston (00:36:02):
For that? I’d say at it’s I’d say it’s at least 25% of my time. It’s least a quarter of my time. Because if I, if I look at my day, you know, I say at least, I mean it could be even more during some parts of the year when I’m teaching in the fall, that’s usually like 50%. And then like reading, doing research should be at least 60%, but by then I’m over a hundred here. But I think with the society I put in at least like, for example, yesterday, I think I put in like three to four hours with, with ISAC doing meetings, doing some planning, doing emails. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:36:42):
So that’s on top of your a hundred percent

Jessica Houston (00:36:46):
yeah, it’s on top of what I should. Well, some things do suffer. For example, I’ve been wanting to write two grants and I just haven’t and I just feel like those are things that can easily be put to the back burner, but then it becomes worrisome cuz you’ll, there’s no deadline for those. And so you just think, oh, I’ll do that. You know, I’ll do that this summer. And then all of a sudden it’s July. Okay, well maybe I’ll try to do that for the fall and that worrisome and even papers. Like I rely a lot on my students to get, send me a paper so we can talk about it, work up and submit it. And this year I’ve had a paper deficit and that’s worrisome too, because I know that there’s and a lot of that’s owing to kind of COVID coming back from COVID. But also a dip in like the Nu the students I have right now and who’s working, which is fine, but still that’s worrisome. Cuz if I’m not publishing one given year, then, then I have this, you know, gap on my CV where they don’t have papers and that’s, you know, that’s not good. And so something,

Peter O’Toole (00:37:43):
I think over the COVID years, I think that the, the, you know, on, on the grant panels, you’re going to be looking at CVS and thinking, well obviously there’s a gap it’s gonna slow. It’s gonna thin out at the very least. Yeah. Over that point. That’s and that’s just, I think the, the way it goes. So as you say, it’s a lot, a lot of hours and you said you like baseball. Yeah. and traveling,

Jessica Houston (00:38:11):
We like traveling, we like baseball. Like that’s a picture in Japan. So one, one of the, a few years back, I, I had kind of a grant rut in which I wasn’t funded. And I had it’s before I got my RO one grant, which my NIH grant now. And then it was, I had some NSF money and they expired. And then I said, I’m really like wanting to do something different. And so I learned about the UF Fulbright program, the Fulbright scholar program, where faculty can apply to the state department for a Fulbright grant and then be paid to basically live in another country for some time doing research. And at the time I started collaborating with Mehos Suzuki from Kyoto university, just north of Tokyo. And I reached out to her and I said, I’m gonna apply for a Fulbright to see if we can, if I can work with you in your lab. Cuz she had some really interesting stuff that she had an application for lifetime cytometry using like fret. So she had this fret probe that would go into the cell and she would do some enzyme cleavage and lifetime is a good tool for that. So I applied and got it. I didn’t think I would get that grant, but I did get it on that first try. And I told, we told our kids like, look, we’re moving to Japan for for six months. So that was that’s another nice thing about a faculty position is you get these opportunities, you know, it’s a flexible and you can leave your university for some time and you can still be paid, but you, you know, you now you have this experience

Peter O’Toole (00:39:38):
And any concerns about taking the children out sort of six months or a long time outta their very young age, their in education. Was there any concern there? Were they worried about it? Or

Jessica Houston (00:39:49):
They were worried, but they trusted us and they, we, we were certainly worried and you know, fortunately there were, it was a good time of their their schooling for us to do that because nobody was in the middle of high school yet. They were all still kind of younger kindergarten, you know, elementary age. And so they weren’t in middle school yet. So they were all right. They could all be in the same school, but it was, yeah, it was an experience they loved at the time. They didn’t like it. But now that we are back, they always, they talk about fondly. Like we wanna go back to Japan, but it was hard for them at the time because we put ’em in the Japanese public school system. Yep. And they just didn’t, you know, they didn’t know any Japanese. We had no language, a skill at all in Japanese. And they just were immersed in that. Listening to a teacher, teach them in Japanese all day long and they started picking it up. They would get like some assistance with some teachers that were, you know, English, but it, it was tough for them, but they, you know, we made them do that and they, they agreed and they, you know, they were worried, but they trusted us. And we said, Hey, this is a good experience for you guys. You and then, so they would walk with all the Japanese students to the school every morning. And yeah, it was, it was neat to see it was,

Peter O’Toole (00:41:05):
It sounds terrifying to have that sort of just dropped in. And so how is their Japanese?

Jessica Houston (00:41:12):
They were literally dropped in. So right now we, they have no knowledge Japanese, our youngest, she does very well counting cuz in kindergarten they do a lot of counting and like, like kind of a U using like the, he Ghana Kaka kind of Japanese phrases. So she does. Okay. But she, we, yeah, none of us really picked it during the time they did. Okay. They could understand kind of what the teacher was trying to tell them. And there were things that we remember like how to sit, you know, things like, well, hello, how are you? Or I’m from US or things like that. But they, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s it’s language, you know, unless you’re there for years and years and you keep, keep up the communication, you know, as they say, you’ll just lose it.

Peter O’Toole (00:42:01):
Hey, so I’m gonna come back to some other things now. So I’ve asked how you got into flow cytometry where you are today. If you could do any job in the world, what would it be?

Jessica Houston (00:42:12):
Wow. I think I would, I would be a stay at home mom. I know it’s I consider that. I mean, it might not be like a career. Right. But I think that if I could just go back and have the choice or ability to do all, do what we wanna do, like all of this traveling, all of these experiences with them, but be able to just stay home with them. I would’ve done that. I think cuz you do miss a lot of their life when you’re working a lot. And and it’s hard to imagine, you know, like a different career outside of what I’m doing now. I don’t know. But I think, you know, being, being just like the at home person would be, would be nice

Peter O’Toole (00:43:01):
but in 10 years time they they’d have fled the nest and know they won’t really home anymore. So

Jessica Houston (00:43:09):
True.

Peter O’Toole (00:43:09):
And you have a, you have a really good career mm-hmm yeah. Would you call it a job? Would you call it a career or would you call it your passion?

Jessica Houston (00:43:18):
I would call it a career. It’s be, it’s somewhat become a passion. I mean somewhat because for some reason I found this, this area, this field, I found like a community of people that I like to work with. The, a thing that I’m kind of good at that I, you know, that I, our, we stand out, you know, we have our own little niche within that field, you know, is, is kind of an expert in that. And, and then the leadership stuff, you know, participating with people to run the society. So I think it’s a passion from that perspective in that I, I thoroughly enjoy it. You know, I really do. I, I, I hope any complaints about it. But I wouldn’t say like, it’s like, I, you know, it’s like a, I wouldn’t, I couldn’t live without it. It’s not quite that. Um but certainly certainly a great, a great job. I, I mean, being an academic, you know, teaching, you have new students every semester, fresh, you know, blooded refresh students that are like, you know, really eager to learn. They keep you kind of young at heart. You, the faculty you work with are all kind of focused on the same mission of improving, you know, improving the curriculum and teaching. Then aside of that, I have this entirely other people that I work, other group of people in cytometry. And so it’s yeah, it it’s a great, I, I don’t know. I couldn’t see, it’s hard to see myself doing something else, but

Peter O’Toole (00:44:50):
I’m glad you said passion. Cause I can’t see how you could be. You would not be doing so much for ISAC if it was not a passion I, I, I, it has to be cuz so much is voluntary.

Jessica Houston (00:45:02):
Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:45:03):
You’re choosing to, you’re choosing to be there. You’re choosing to drive it, which actually comes to a good bit. Ah, Mrs. President elect , what’s your, what’s your agenda? What go, what, what are you gonna do? Do you have a, is there something you would like to pick up, pick up on and drive through in your it’s quite a short term as well? Isn’t it?

Jessica Houston (00:45:25):
It is. So the, the rule, the role of president elect is actually to one to run the meeting. So that’s kind of the most immediate thing that I’m gonna be working on now is, is doing the, is chairing the entire program for CYTO Montreal. So I’ll be focusing on that and, and that’s a big job, right? And we, you know, need to make sure that all the people that wanna participate can participate. Everybody has a voice and what they think the meeting should look like and what they think, you know, the speakers should be about or the plenary sessions or the parallel sessions. So, so that’s a huge, you know, thing. So that’s my most immediate, you know, task ahead of me right now as president elect, but also president elect eventually starts working with all of the committees and sharing things like one of our committee collectives, which, you know, getting all the committee chairs together. There’s a lot of it’s you’re part of the executive committee. So the executive board is basically, you know, past president, president elect president and then, you know, the other officers. So so there’s that. And then once you, once I am president, which will be a one year term and that begins in 2024. So that’ll be a couple, couple years out

Peter O’Toole (00:46:45):
And I’ve gotta say so so far, you know, we talk about lots of volunteers, but it’s not just about volunteers to staff that are made. There are the conference costs a lot of money. There’s a lot of online content which costs a lot of money to produce publish, put online. It’s a big responsibility and the society’s big and yet COVID must posed big challenges cuz as you say, you are responsible as chair. So I’ve been here with the Royal microscopical society and the big meetings, if the meeting at CYTO is a huge liability, it is probably not the right term to use, but if it was to go wrong, mm-hmm , it could really, it could almost fold ISAC. Yeah. If I chose to go wrong, what things would be, how have you coped over COVID cause I, you were treasurer as well.

Jessica Houston (00:47:44):
Yes.

Peter O’Toole (00:47:44):
So you, you very sensitive to these finances.

Jessica Houston (00:47:48):
Right. And you know, some people would tell me like how do you sleep at night? And I, you know, I always never, I never thought we were like in this dire straight where we were going to just, it was going to break us. I mean, we knew that COVID, you know, was affecting people worldwide. We knew the economy was gonna be going crazy for us cuz that’s where investments are. Basically we knew without any meeting, we were gonna going to ha take a big hit. Luckily over the years we’ve had some, you know, nice buffer of for that. But we also were going through a time at ISAC where we were transitioning away from a managed society through FASA to our, to self-managing ourselves, which is basically hiring our own staff and all of that. So there was a lot of cause to worry and to be fearful of what is gonna happen, are we gonna survive this? What is gonna, you know, what will ISACs finances look like in the future? And so what we, you know, the things that we did were tried to be as conservative as possible. We knew that we had already created a budget, you know, our annual budget budgets in for things like the meeting budgets in staff, time and effort, you know, and, and all of that. So when COVID hit, you know, things happen in which, okay, maybe we’re not gonna get all this meeting revenue, but we already have in our budget and we know what the cost is gonna be. Maybe we can go get away with a virtual meeting. That’s somewhat lower cost, look to our industry and vendors to support it. Yep. And then carry through. And then there’s a philosophy of how much should be in your reserves, how much investment should you have to save this society? If something is very critical. So at that point, Johnny, our president came up with a mission continuity committee to, to be think thinking of and focused on situations that could occur and we need to figure out ways to mitigate those. So it was, it was a tough time. Yeah. But we would have lots of zoom meetings throughout COVID with Andrea Riza, you know, who was the pres president. And then Johnny who was becoming president, we had Paul Wallace past president and then myself and as the treasurer. So it was and then David Galbrath was secretary. So we had a lot of meetings to think about how is it going, what’s gonna happen, you know? And

Peter O’Toole (00:50:20):
It’s interest. It’s interesting. I, I guess cuz you were under pressure at the time go through the microscopy society. It’s it’s had that it’s, it’s got its reserves to weather storms, but it’s painful, you know, when you’re sitting on its deck to actually see those funds dropping because that’s your rainy day money yes. On a rainy day and, and it’s going down, you think you can’t certainly have so many more rainy days. Fortunately I’ve got to say, I think similar for ISAC, it was very much the, the D the damage was very much very limited mm-hmm and I think, again, one of the great confidence is, and I think you say you’re not losing sleep over it because the membership is very supportive. So there will get behind whatever is being delivered and they’ll be registering for the virtual meetings, whatever else it is. The companies are very much on side as well. Cause you know, we, they’re very much part of the same community mm-hmm and I think it’s really important to have them completely on side and as transparent as possible with it. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes and especially cause I know the membership model,uso the fees model has changed and it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out. Cause that’s, that looks quite experimental,ufrom where I’m sitting. It’ll be interesting. See how many of each tier come in to see if that budget actually does work or not?

Jessica Houston (00:51:43):
Yeah. It when we were thinking and rethinking the membership tier structure, you know, a lot of research had to go into what, you know, what are stand, what other societies doing? How is this gonna work? What do we anticipate? What structure do we anticipate? Most of the people opting into how this can, how can this support people from a, from a countries that don’t, you know, that don’t have the infrastructure or that may have a more income. That’s not, you know, that wouldn’t really allow them to like come in at a platinum. So how do we use that as a consideration? Because yeah, because this is a worldwide society and the tier structure is gonna affect, you know, affect everyone. Interestingly, I think what they what Courtney, our ed said is that we have a more people doing the platinum and gold, then she expected, I think, I think the highest participation rate is in like the highest tier and maybe one of like the second, the third down tier, she thought a lot. We we’re expecting a lot more coming in at the lowest tier, which is like a cheaper, you know, way, but there, but the way that people are actually be registering as members was a little bit more unexpected.

Peter O’Toole (00:52:59):
So it’d be interesting to see how that breaks down globally. Cause I think, yeah, in the UK, the platinum model will always be almost impossible to get through certainly work expenses to say, cuz it inclusive with the conference. It be hard to actually justify that from a UK or maybe even European perspective. So it’d be really interesting to actually to see how that model works in different parts of the world itself. I need to move on cause we we’ve only got 10 minutes left. I’m I’m yeah. Going very quickly through so quick, some quick five questions. Are you an early bird or an night owl?

Jessica Houston (00:53:34):
I would say I’m a night owl. Okay. I, I can work at night better. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:53:42):
PC or Mac.

Jessica Houston (00:53:44):
That’s a funny one because I do both. I, I need, I have a Mac this is what I’m on right now. Big I Mac, but my laptop’s a PC cuz I need certain programs in chemical engineering that is PC. So I, I do both and I love both.

Peter O’Toole (00:53:57):
Oh, okay. So that’s okay. So McDonald’s or burger king

Jessica Houston (00:54:01):
Mcdonald’s

Peter O’Toole (00:54:02):
Oh, that was a quick answer. So what your go to, to, okay. There’s not many ever say that. So what is your go to when you go to McDonald’s?

Jessica Houston (00:54:11):
The sausage, egg biscuit.

Peter O’Toole (00:54:15):
Don’t have that in the UK. Okay.

Jessica Houston (00:54:18):
It’s a breakfast one breakfast sandwich. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:54:21):
Oh yeah. Actually I breakfast are my favorites. I’ve gotta say, I think McDonald’s do a pretty good breakfast. It’s different. It has its place in

Jessica Houston (00:54:29):
Their coffee. I really like their coffee actually.

Peter O’Toole (00:54:32):
No coffee is good. I wish I did decaf on, on that note. Tea or coffee?

Jessica Houston (00:54:36):
Coffee. Yeah,

Peter O’Toole (00:54:38):
Wine or beer.

Jessica Houston (00:54:40):
Wow. That one also is very tough because I like we, we have, we have a microbrew program in chemical engineering here in our department and so, and there’s a lot of micro breweries all throughout New Mexico.

Peter O’Toole (00:54:52):
And is that the protein it’s very

Jessica Houston (00:54:53):
Popular.

Peter O’Toole (00:54:54):
Huh? Are you sure? That’s not just a protein fermentation lab. That’s too right.

Jessica Houston (00:54:57):
see it. It’s a chemical engineering problem, like right. But we but there’s also a lot of wineries around here and we I, I, I do enjoy wine, so I it’s tough. Maybe probably beer if I had to choose.

Peter O’Toole (00:55:12):
Okay. Chocolate or cheese.

Jessica Houston (00:55:15):
Oh, cheese. I’d say

Peter O’Toole (00:55:17):
I definitely. Okay. Go to a conference. Maybe you were invited speaker and you get taken out for an evening meal. What would be the ideal food that would be served up for you? Cause quite often you don’t get to choose what you’re going to eat. You get to put in front of you. What would be if you came out, you go, oh yes. Perfect. What’s that food

Jessica Houston (00:55:39):
Probably eating like a Japanese dish. Like sushi’s great. Could be sushi, but it could be something like AO Miyaki. I love that when we had that in J Japan or taco Yaki or even Yaki soba, like something like that, I would be like, this is great.

Peter O’Toole (00:55:58):
Okay. Mm-hmm on the opposite to that. Yes. What is the worst thing that they could put in front of and you go, oh no. And I have to eat that.

Jessica Houston (00:56:07):
Yikes. Oh gosh.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:11):
Is there anything you don’t like that you’d

Jessica Houston (00:56:13):
I’m not a picky person. So I can’t think probably something like, if I, if something bland, like just something like, I don’t know, meat and potatoes. That’s not to me. Interesting. Like I love a steak. Right. I don’t know. Like, but I, something, I don’t know. Just some, I like things that are really more like ethnic, spicy different. So something bland, I would say, oh, this is boring.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:39):
Who cooks at home?

Jessica Houston (00:56:41):
I we all do my, one of my sons loves to cook. He watches this YouTuber that and he, and then my husband and I like to cook together. So we’ll, we kind of all do it. Sometimes one or the other of us will like have more time to do it. But for the most part we’re, it’s a group thing.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:56):
Okay. And book or TV . And so, so watch your TV vice that you are now gonna confess to, but you’ll regret afterwards.

Jessica Houston (00:57:08):
Yeah. Right. We watch lots of, so we subscribe to everything. We have Hulu, we have peacock, we have Netflix, we have HBO. We have what’s the other one that I’m forgetting. So we always have a recurring show we’re watching and it’s just a way to like, relax. I feel like I know some people can relax with a book, but I do so much other reading, like reading grants, reading papers that when I go home, I just wanna like stare at something. And so right now we’re watching a Hulu show called dope stick. So we were like kind of binging that right now recently, but we were watching the morning show. Oh, apple TV, apple. That’s the other one. Yeah. You’re watching that. So I don’t know. We’ll pick, whatever’s like the good show and we’d binge it.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:56):
Okay. That’s very good answer. And what about your favorite film?

Jessica Houston (00:58:01):
My favorite film. Wow. That’s a tough one. I mean there’s every year there’s good movies that come out. I mean, I, you know, like if I had to choose probably like the Shawshank redemption, that’s a great movie. Great story. But I honestly, I do love movies and it can, it can vary.

Peter O’Toole (00:58:21):
Okay. Do you have a Christmas film?

Jessica Houston (00:58:24):
Oh, a Christmas film. We love Christmas vacation. Lampoons

Peter O’Toole (00:58:29):
National Lampoon.

Jessica Houston (00:58:30):
Yes. We watch that every year. And like, I I’ll always laugh at that movie no matter what ,

Peter O’Toole (00:58:36):
Which is sad. Cause you know, what’s gonna happen, but it is still entertaining

Jessica Houston (00:58:40):
Exactly.

Peter O’Toole (00:58:42):
I, I won’t ask what your favorite scene is. I’ll do that afterwards. what type of music are you into?

Jessica Houston (00:58:49):
I like so I listen to like the, you know, the satellite radio stations, like XMU so like alternative stuff. I do, you know, like to go back to like alternative things like oh gosh, like I’ll probably date myself, but we’ll listen to like a lot of the cure or new order or we’ll listen to like Pearl jam, like stuff like that. But I also like modern, modern stuff. Like I really like the bleachers and I like the, I like the churches like arcade fire. So I don’t know. We’re, we’re kind of more, I feel like more like rock genre, I guess, alternative genre.

Peter O’Toole (00:59:31):
It’s no, it’s all good. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. what about when there’s been probably the best time in your career? If you could, literally, if we could relive one year in your career, what year would it be? What time?

Jessica Houston (00:59:46):
I think I would re wow. Yeah, probably relive the early years becoming a faculty. Cuz that was really fun. I mean it’s stressful and it’s kind of intimidating, scary, but you know that those early years I just started as a faculty member, I hit the ground running. I wrote grants and I was getting these grants and I got an NSF career, which is a big award for a young faculty. And I always just felt so great at that time in my career. Like, okay, I can do this. You know, like the that’s like the, the confidence you need the build confidence builder to say like, this is gonna, you know, this isn’t a good, good career choice. So probably the early years as a faculty.

Peter O’Toole (01:00:27):
Okay. And on the co, which I show is really good to hear cuz you know, it’s challenging, but it can be very, you’ve got a lot of freedom as well, which is very own responsibilities. What about the most challenging or difficult time you’ve had so far in your career? I’m not saying you’re gonna have more difficult or challenging times in the future, but in the past, what has been, have you found the most difficult or challenging time?

Jessica Houston (01:00:48):
Yeah, I think one of the most difficult was like going up for tenure and promotion because you know, you start to really like be introspective of what you’ve accomplished and you look and you can compare yourself to other people. And like what I’ve accomplished might is, you know, it does pale in comparison to a lot of people who are at universities. Like I don’t know USC or I don’t know, pick your, any big name, you know, Michigan or whatever, MIT, Caltech places that are very very elite schools. And what I do is really my productivity is, is not really anything compared to that. I, I have to say, it’s, you know, I have a good career and I’ve produced work and I’ve published and all of that, but there are certain, you know, levels of academics that, you know, and I’m okay with that. But when you start thinking about that and it’s very stressful and it’s not great, cuz then you have to put yourself out there to say, I’m applying for promotion. Am I gonna, you know, make the cut and then people have to evaluate you. So it’s, it’s not a good time. It’s kind of stressful. And

Peter O’Toole (01:01:57):
Yeah, I, I, I would, I, I, I will try and encounter a little in your defense on this. You know, if you go to MIT or Stanford or, you know, they have big teams, you know, they have good funding, streams, the funding, they, they have a lot, a lot of PhDs postdocs within their labs so they can turn out more. Yeah. I, I think, I think what they do is amazing cuz to manage that size team with such diverse research projects and the same focus field, but so diverse is quite incredible, but I don’t think it lesses what other universities are doing. And the academics within their niche feels is equally valid and equally important. Yes. You’re not gonna be publishing the same volume that they have the ability to because the number of students, but again, the influence is still there on the field. It’s you’re still teaching and inspiring. So, so no, don’t worry about that.

Jessica Houston (01:02:53):
I, and you’re right. You know, cuz we do, we don’t get the best students. We’ll we’ll get like kind of the second tier international students. So you know, those schools draw the really strong, you know, graduate student applicants that come in and you’re right. There’s a lot more money. , there’s a lot more resources. And so it’s true. You, it, it’s probably easier to, to have those outcomes when you’re in a situation like that then.

Peter O’Toole (01:03:18):
Yeah. And you know, if you, as you’re saying, if you, if you’re class as second here, it’s those who are coming in, maybe with less opportunities to get into that point, you may have more of influence over their future career than those that are higher university. Their career is maybe already into a degree. This is stereotyping. So we have to be careful. But, but generally I would say it doesn’t matter where you are teaching, you can still make a big difference to the lives of the, the students coming in. So no, it, it, it’s all just different. It’s different. Yeah. Metrics and I, I, we are just gone, just gone over the hour. So I have to ask quickly S P I E SPIE or CTO, which is your favorite conference

Jessica Houston (01:03:57):
CYTO.

Peter O’Toole (01:03:57):
You had to say that didn’t you , there is no choice

Jessica Houston (01:04:00):
That,

Peter O’Toole (01:04:02):
But SPIE is also another great conference that you must go to on an annual basis.

Jessica Houston (01:04:06):
Yeah. In fact, I chair with a, Atila we chair one of the major sessions, the cell and forgot our name of our session. It’s like the tissue cell session. So it’s big and I do a lot of work with them too, but yeah, I, I go to that every year, but yeah, it’s a good one.

Peter O’Toole (01:04:23):
Geez. I have to get over anyway, Jessica, thank you so much for joining me today. Everyone who’s watched or listened, please. Don’t forget to subscribe, please. Don’t forget actually, a really unscientific thing. Like it, we don’t often do that until I pointed that out to me the other day that everyone’s very quick to criticize. Not, not the podcast, but just criticize other things. So actually yeah, come on, get out there and yeah. Tell people about it. I think it’s Jessica to hear about your career, how you’ve balanced it at challenging times. I think it’s been really good for people to hear. I hope and show that and you can succeed, which is cool.

Jessica Houston (01:04:59):
Thanks a lot, Pete. This has been fun.

Peter O’Toole (01:05:01):
Oh, and I’ll see you soon.

Jessica Houston (01:05:02):
Yes. See you soon.

 

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