Graduate Student Spotlight | Josie Blair
"Every class has been its own unique experience and has shaped my career along the way. If it wasn’t for Professor Ann Boyd’s ethics in science course, I would have likely never initiated my quest to go work in Kenya. If it wasn’t for Professor Chari’s intro to bioinformatics course, I would have been totally lost in my Kenya research project when the collaboration plans with a bioinformaticist fell through and we had to do our own analyses."
Josie Blair, M.S. Biomedical Science
- Biomedical Science (M.S.)
Josie Blair is a current graduate student in the biomedical science M.S. program at Hood College. Josie works as a NCOIC and laboratory manager in the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s (WRAIR) Clinical Trials Center. Josie also holds two bachelor’s degrees, her first from Pace University in cellular and molecular biology, and her second through the Uniformed Services University of Health Science in health sciences.
Could you briefly describe your education and career background?
I enlisted in the Army with a bachelor’s in cellular and molecular biology from Pace University. Through the Army’s Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) program, I earned a second bachelor’s in health sciences through the Uniformed Services University of Health Science (USUHS) as well as an American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) MLT certification.
I have spent the last few years working in the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s (WRAIR) Clinical Trials Center as the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) and laboratory manager.
When did you graduate—both from college and from your continued education?
I received my degree from Pace University in 2017, my ASCP MLT certification in 2019 and got my degree from USUHS with the 2020 class. I will be graduating from Hood College’s biomedical science program in spring 2023!
How did you come to work as a medical laboratory scientist in the Army?
I walked at Pace’s graduation in 2014, but I later discovered that I still needed two more classes to graduate. I completed these and spent the next two years paying them off out of pocket. The same day that I received my transcripts, I sent them over to an Army recruiter. I was living in rural Georgia at the time working odd jobs, living paycheck to paycheck, and felt like I needed to escape the sinking ship.
I wanted to continue my education, but I knew that if I wanted to be competitive, I needed to overcome the financial obstacles that I faced during undergrad. I knew absolutely nothing about the Army or an enlisted contract, but the Army allows you to select your job. I felt confident that I could excel in a lab setting regardless of the rest being uncharted territory.
What was your work in Kenya like?
Kenya was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Getting there and fighting for this temporary duty (TDY) was a year-long endeavor of persistence, and it was only possible through the support of some good leadership. I got the opportunity to see all of the labs that WRAIR supports, but primarily I worked with the Kombewa Clinical Trials Center and Kondele Molecular Laboratory.
At Kondele, we spent seven weeks optimizing a workflow that could identify pathogens responsible for bacteremia in children enrolled in Kombwea’s clinical trial. Our goal was to show that nanopore sequencing with the Oxford MinION/MK1C would be more sensitive and faster than traditional microbiology culturing techniques. We were even able to detect Dengue virus in a blood culture that was deemed negative, proving that this technique can pick up viral pathogens that would be missed by conventional Bactec workflows.
This work is significant to the Army in treating combat-related injuries, as the MinION is easily transportable, and can be used in deployed settings that cannot support microbiology labs.
What has it been like working in the medical field?
I feel like I have gotten a glimpse of many aspects of the medical field. I went from research to urgent care working at Patient First for two years, then I finally handled clinical trials at WRAIR. It takes all of these sectors to continuously support and innovate patient and public health and I have gotten the opportunity to see how they all depend upon one another.
How did your education at Hood College help prepare you for your career?
Every class has been its own unique experience and has shaped my career along the way. If it wasn’t for Professor Ann Boyd’s ethics in science course, I would have likely never initiated my quest to go work in Kenya. If it wasn’t for Professor Chari’s intro to bioinformatics course, I would have been totally lost in my Kenya research project when the collaboration plans with a bioinformaticist fell through and we had to do our own analyses.
I recently received an invitation to Interview Day at USUHS for their Emerging Infectious Disease Ph.D program. I can thank Hood College for preparing me for this next educational step, and I hope I get accepted into the program!
Are there any fun facts about yourself that you would like to share?
While in Kisumu, my Kenyan friends made me sign up and run my first half-marathon with them. The whole Kondele lab team ran it together; there were 17 of us. It was grueling! The terrain was rocky, there were endless hills, and there was a surprise 14th mile at the end. Some of the runners didn’t have shoes or ran in sandals, while others were surreal and passed me finishing their full marathon before I even finished my half. But apparently, I liked it and signed up to run another half-marathon with my twin sister on April 1 in Waynesville, North Carolina. I think running spans cultures and want to do more of these in many different countries.
Inspired by Josie’s story and ready to #GOFURTHER in your career? Learn more about Hood College’s graduate programs, including the M.S. in biomedical science, by clicking here.
Are you ready to say Hello?
Choose a Pathway
Information will vary based on program level. Select a path to find the information you're looking for!