Erin Lipp, a professor of environmental health science in the College of Public Health, encourages her students to think critically about science and how it affects the world in which they live.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in biology from New College of Florida in Sarasota in 1994 and my Ph.D. in marine science from the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg in 1999. In 2000, I left Florida for a postdoc position at the Center of Marine Biotechnology in Baltimore (now the University of Maryland Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology). As of July 1, I am full professor in the department of environmental health science in the College of Public Health. In addition to teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in environmental microbiology, I, along with my lab of excellent graduate students, conduct research on issues related to microbial ecology, waterborne pathogens and ocean health. I am also the graduate coordinator for the department.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2002 after two years as a postdoc in Maryland. I was drawn to UGA as a major research university and to environmental health science as a place where I could merge my research interests in both public health and marine sciences. I knew I had excellent opportunities for collaboration at UGA and was not disappointed. To that end, I hold courtesy appointments in three other units on campus (ecology, microbiology and marine science) and am a member of the Biomedical and Heath Sciences Institute, Water Resources Faculty and the Georgia Initiative for Climate and Society.
What are your favorite courses and why?
My favorite courses are the two graduate classes that I teach. “Oceans and Human Health” (EHSC/MARS 8410) explores the myriad ways that oceans impact public health, from climate change to seafood safety to drug discovery and even overall well-being. This is truly an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary field of science, and is both a pleasure and a task to get students from often widely disparate academic backgrounds to really understand each of the problems that we address and how other fields might tackle them. My other graduate class, EHSC 8310, “Advanced Topics in Aquatic Microbiology, Health and the Environment,” puts students in charge of developing a research project around water quality issues in Athens. It is always amazing to see what topics they come up with and inspiring to see how much they learn from immersing themselves in a real-world problem.
What interests you about your field?
I am an environmental microbiologist but my area of focus is really water, which means that my work crosses into many different fields (ecology, hydrology, geology, oceanography, health and even policy). Microbiology really does touch everything, and it is exciting to work in areas that really impact our world—from public health to climate change. I also love that I am able to work in the field and at the bench. Although I am at my computer far more than I would like to be, one of the things that drew me to my research is the ability to split time between getting on the water and collecting samples with time spent working in the lab using molecular tools.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I have been at UGA for 12 years, have made tenure and gone through all of the faculty ranks. Making full professor this year (and the first woman in my department to do so) was certainly a big moment in my career.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I am lucky in that my teaching and research are really closely linked. There have been many times that working on new course material has sparked some thought that pushes me to a new research question. And my own research is often a big part of what I teach and how I try to process ideas with my students.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope they appreciate that disciplinary lines are often quite blurred in modern science. Even if they do not end up being scientists themselves, I hope they learn to think critically about science and how it affects the world in which they live.
Describe your ideal student.
I honestly believe that there are a lot of ways to be “ideal,” and as long as students are truly interested in the subject, I appreciate the different ways that they may approach classes or research. But one attribute that I find consistently in my best students is resiliency in the face of challenges—the ability to keep working even when things seem really difficult.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
My favorite place to escape to when I need to think or clear my head is the Trial Gardens behind the pharmacy building. Where you might find me more regularly is the dance studio at the Ramsey Student Center taking technical classes (mostly ballet). Not only is it a great workout, but it forces me to think about something completely different for a few hours a week. For me, dance is the best mind-body exercise there is.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
As a mom with two young kids, most of my time outside of UGA is spent with family. We travel whenever we can and otherwise just enjoy being together.
Community/civic involvement includes….
For the past several years, my lab has worked with the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, testing water samples from Athens-area streams and rivers for evidence of fecal pollution. UOWN is an all-volunteer enterprise that does an amazing job of raising awareness about local water quality issues as well as providing data that can be used to help inform water and land use policy in Athens. I also do a lot of work with professional societies and governmental agencies. I am currently on the author team for the National Climate Assessment working on the effects of climate change on waterborne disease.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I have too many favorites. I love to read (and watch movies—at least I did before kids). The book that I have re-read more than any other is “Jitterbug Perfume” by Tom Robbins. I am not sure why this book has stuck with me for so long (I think I first read it in about 1990), but the absurdity of the premise packaged in such an earnest way somehow draws me in. Or maybe it was just the opening line, “The beet is the most intense of vegetables.”
Proudest moment at UGA?
I am always proud when I see one of my students finish the hard work of their thesis or dissertation and get their degree. Hooding a Ph.D. is always especially exciting.
Originally published on Sept. 21, 2014