Associate professor Andrew Park conducts research that aims to predict and limit the transmission of parasites and infectious diseases while also giving students the opportunity to work alongside him in his lab.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
All my formal education was in the United Kingdom. I earned my bachelor’s degree in mathematics and chemistry from Aston University, my master’s degree in mathematical biology from Dundee University and my Ph.D. in biology from Cambridge University.
I’m jointly appointed in the Odum School of Ecology and the department of infectious diseases in the College of Veterinary Medicine. I’m also a member of the university’s Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases and the Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I arrived in 2008 and was attracted to the concentration in infectious disease research across the campus and the strength in ecology.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I particularly enjoy teaching “Population Biology of Infectious Diseases,” which is also my research area. We pair important concepts with illuminating case studies, and students work with real data to see for themselves how parasites, including viruses and bacteria, impact the planet. We finish with a student-led symposium involving talks and poster presentations that celebrates how far the students have come in one semester and teaches me some new things too!
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
From a research perspective, UGA has allowed me to expand how I think about parasites and infectious diseases. This includes new ideas on how to manage antibiotic resistance and studying the barriers and bridges for parasites jumping the species barrier. Together with several colleagues, we also invested time in learning as much as we could about the recent Ebola crisis in west Africa.
From a teaching perspective, whether it’s a First-Year Odyssey Seminar or a Ph.D. class, all the small moments where you witness students mastering new ideas and skills is very rewarding.
How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
If it involves a parasite, I’m interested. Unlike many researchers, I don’t generate any data, but increasingly I’m becoming a data scientist. I’ve studied the effects of small changes in amino acids of viruses up to the distribution of all parasites of mammals. Of course, some of this research is aimed at predicting and limiting the transmission of parasites—but an important part of my research is just to understand the parasitic way of life, which applies to at least half of the species on the planet.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
The opportunity to show that conceptual thinking connects immediately to problems in society is mutually beneficial in the classroom. I spend a lot of my time analyzing data on a computer—and we’re finding more opportunities for students to do that too, which hopefully increases their prospects in other classes, in graduate school and on the job market. I’ve been lucky in recruiting students from my classes to undertake research in the lab—which has allowed me to ask new research questions with them.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope the students see that the ideas we present about how we think the world works are either alive and supported by evidence, or open to be challenged by better ideas and new data—that science isn’t settled and they have a role to play in contributing. I hope they learn some coding too, as I use scientific programming in every class I teach.
Describe your ideal student.
Tenacious and improving in their ability to weigh evidence.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I’ve recently been enjoying some eclectic music events at the Performing Arts Center, including Spanish Brass and The Chieftains, so I hope to do more of that.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
… kayak, either locally at Lake Chapman or in the tidal creeks of Tybee.
Community/civic involvement includes….
When time allows, I’ve done some chess coaching — particularly at the middle school level. Their ability to concentrate for 90 minutes after a full school day is impressive.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
“Lucky Jim” by Kingsley Amis. It made me want to search out books that are laugh-out-loud funny; anything by David Sedaris, for example.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
In 2015 we hosted the annual Ecology & Evolution of Infectious Diseases international conference and welcomed almost 400 colleagues from around the world to share their research.
(Originally published on Oct. 23, 2017)