Trainee Page: Careers in Andrology


  • Daniela Bomgardner,

  • Pierre Comizzoli


ABSTRACT: As you are reading this issue, you should be making plans to attend the American Society of Andrology's 29th Annual Meeting to be held in Baltimore, Md, from April 17 to April 20, 2004. This is a great event to learn as well as to mix and mingle with fellow trainees and distinguished professionals in the field. For those unsure of their future career path, it is a fantastic opportunity to socialize with several members who have taken a nontraditional approach to a conventional degree. Below, we have singled out 2 individuals who were generous enough to tell their story of alternative career paths, but there are certainly more. Take the time to search these people out as well as any one of our Society members. They are a tremendous resource to answer your relevant topics such as grant writing, searching for a post-doc position or job, taking alternative career paths, or succeeding in the clinic or laboratory.

From In Vivo to In Vitro

by Dr Daniela Bomgardner

When I started medical school in Berlin in 1981, it was my ambition upon graduation to work as a physician in either a hospital setting or private practice. Unfortunately, while in school, employment for medical doctors in Germany was in dire straits. This was due to an increase in medical students and a decrease in job availability. Physicians experienced huge unemployment numbers. So, it came as no surprise that when I graduated from medical school in 1988, I could not find a position. In Germany, the medical education system is quite different from that in the United States. For example, I had the option of completing a research thesis, yet few medical students in the United States have the opportunity to perform research. Because the German job market was so poor, I decided to start my research thesis in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the Free University of Berlin. This led me from the traditional medical curriculum to a new path that included the opportunity to learn research techniques. During this period in my training, I was surprised to learn that I enjoyed research. I still felt close to my original goal of learning traditional medicine, because I was spending time with the medical students, teaching them gross anatomy, histology, and embryology. However, I enjoyed a new freedom, one that is common to those in research, scheduling freedom. Such autonomy is opposite to the time constraints imposed upon physicians. In 1991, I completed my doctoral thesis and found myself at a crossroads as to what lay ahead. I was not sure if I wanted to live an “in vitro” life or if I should return to the “in vivo” part of my medical profession.

To aid my decision, I went back to the life of a clinician. In the Department of Biochemical Endocrinology, I worked mainly with infertility patients. During this time in the clinic, I quickly learned how much I missed the research laboratory. I missed the freedom to make flexible schedules and missed teaching students. One might say that I liked the Sertoli cell more than the whole testicle.

So, I moved back into research and landed in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology. I stayed in this position until 1999, when for personal reasons, I applied and was accepted into a program in the United States.

My new adventure began at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. With a special thanks to Dr Terry Turner, I began a postdoctoral fellowship on an institutional NRSA grant in the Department of Urology. Despite my initial fears of not being on the same knowledge level as MD/PhDs and PhDs in the United States, as well as my limitations with the English language, I started the position and succeeded, thanks to a very supportive environment. After completing the fellowship, I applied successfully for an individual NRSA training grant. However, these grants are limited to 3 years. Therefore, with the help of Dr Donna Vogel from the NICHD/NIH, the next step in my career was achieved when I was awarded a KO8 grant, a career award for physicians whose purpose is to become an independent investigator.

Currently, I am working in the Department of Cell Biology, in the laboratory of Dr Barry Hinton, at the University of Virginia. My work has shifted from human testes, prostate exams, circumcisions, and erectile dysfunction to mouse testis, epididymal perfusions, protein assays, and gene chip arrays. Although my journey to this point has been unusual, it shows that change is possible. It just depends upon one's determination. Remember, no decision is set in stone.

Research and Conservation Biology

by Dr Pierre Comizzoli

My interest in research and conservation biology began during my preveterinary undergraduate training when I was a part-time research technician at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris (MNHN). I studied the reproductive seasonality of various mammals living in French Guyana, and this first experience stimulated me to pursue a scientific career. During my DVM thesis (National Veterinary School of Maisons-Alfort, France; 1994), supervised by the MNHN and the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA), I worked for 6 months in French Guyana on the captive breeding of the collared peccary (Tajassu tajacu) and studied the reproductive and digestive physiology of this species. I then worked as a veterinary epidemiologist for 1½ years at the Veterinary and Zootechnical Research Laboratory of Farcha (N'Djamena, Chad). My duties included the monitoring of scientific programs (health and zootechnical surveys of sheep, goats, and cattle) in the Sahelian zone and Lake Chad. These different appointments, involving wild-life and tropical veterinary medicine, allowed me to study different aspects of reproductive biology in various animal species. I therefore was intensely interested in furthering my career in reproductive sciences and research. Thus, I decided to complete a Master of Science (University of Paris VI, France 1997) and a PhD (University of Tours, France; 2000). I served as a trainee at the INRA and the MNHN where I studied in vitro production of bovine embryos (effect of the paternal component on the early embryo development) and different aspects of in vitro production of embryos and semen cryopreservation in the red deer (Cervus elaphus) and the sika deer (Cervus nippon) in an attempt to apply these techniques to related endangered species (Bactrian Deer, Formosan sika deer, and Vietnamese sika deer). After my PhD, the MNHN offered me a short-term contract to be in charge of a conservation program for endangered deer species. Then, I joined the Department of Reproductive Sciences at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park in 2002 as a visiting scientist/reproductive physiologist. I develop new methods for the in vitro production of felid embryos through enhanced in vitro culture conditions and the use of intracytoplasmic sperm injection. I also conduct studies on the cryopreservation of domestic cat oocytes to develop freezing procedures for the oocytes of rare and endangered felids. At last, I participate in ongoing studies to develop successful in vitro production of embryos in the Eld's deer. This is interesting work because, beyond the immediate challenges of this research, I also have to develop a multidisciplinary research plan in several important biological, biomedical, and conservation research techniques. My research is comparative and relies on a multidisciplinary, integrative approach to take advantage of as many new techniques as possible.