Future Directions: Allison Eberly, PhD, Clinical Microbiology Fellow, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
By Meagan Postema, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow
How does one obtain post-graduate career training outside of a traditional postdoctoral fellowship? Allison Eberly, Ph.D., a recent Vanderbilt University graduate, chose to pursue a Clinical Microbiology Fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Eberly began her 2-year fellowship in July of 2019, and the first thing she learned was that no two days in the clinical laboratory are ever the same. While she spends most of her mornings in laboratory rotations learning how to isolate and identify microbes, the afternoons are more variable and consist of microbiology rounds, didactic sessions, and meetings. Eberly is also on call 24/7 every third week of her fellowship, which involves carrying around an actual pager and fielding calls from in-house providers and clients regarding test results.
Eberly fell in love with microbiology when she joined the laboratory of Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, to study biofilms. However, basic research wasn’t fulfilling Eberly’s desire to help people more directly and she knew she needed to pursue a career closer to the clinic.
After participating in the Clinical Laboratory Medicine ASPIRE Module offered through the BRET Office of Career Development, Eberly learned that as a clinical microbiologist, she could combine her altruistic nature and her love for microbiology. In her current role, Eberly gets to test patient samples, determine the cause of infection, and then quickly communicate the results to the care team. If current graduate students are considering a position as a clinical microbiologist, Eberly advises them to get exposure as early in their graduate training as possible. The clinical world operates very differently than might be expected, and a lab director must wear many different hats.
Coolest thing you’ve done so far in your fellowship?
I just saw Loa loa, microfilarial worms, in blood! Additionally, being a clinical microbiology fellow during a pandemic has been an amazing experience. To be a part of the team involved in test development at the Mayo Clinic has provided me with incredible first-hand experience.
What is your favorite thing about microbiology?
If I had to pick one thing, I would say biofilms. Bacterial communities, especially in complex situations where multiple bacterial species are present in an infection, are fascinating to me and we have so much to learn!
Favorite laboratory rotation so far?
While parasitology was filled with the coolest specimens, I have to say I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the mycobacteriology and mycology lab. Getting to suit up with a respirator and go into the BSL3 lab space was certainly one of the highlights, along with TB susceptibility testing and tape preps from fungal cultures. Have you ever seen Alternaria [class of fungi] under the microscope?
What is your favorite aspect about your job? Least favorite aspect?
I love the variety and the unknown, which is sometimes my least favorite aspect because it makes it hard to plan the day and week.
What do you want to do after your fellowship?
Ideally, I would like to be directing a clinical laboratory in a hospital that is affiliated with an academic research center.
What time do you wake up in the morning? Go to bed at night?
In graduate school, I was a night owl, but that doesn’t work so well in the clinical world! I try to get to bed by 11pm and wake up around 6am.
What are your hobbies/ favorite things to do outside of work?
I was surprised to find that Rochester, being a small town, has a National Volleyball Center – I play twice a week! I live along the river in town that is connected to running trails, which are great in the warmer months.
What is the last book you have read?
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
What has been your favorite thing about living in Minnesota?
I enjoy having all four seasons again. The snow doesn’t bother me too much because I have underground parking and live in an apartment, so I don’t have to shovel. While I have certainly upped my winter attire with a parka, scarves, snow boots, and wool mittens, I live very close to the sky walk/ tunnel system that connects much of the downtown area and the Mayo Clinic. I try to walk outside if the temperature is in the double digits – only above zero, of course!