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Infectious disease researcher embraces role as “enthusiastic citizen of the university”

Julie ParsonnetJulie Parsonnet, MD, defies easy categorization. A self-proclaimed “enthusiastic citizen of university,” Parsonnet said she has always wanted to be engaged. And she is. Throughout her career at Stanford, she has assumed many roles: infectious disease researcher, physician, undergraduate educator, faculty senate member and resident fellow at Stanford’s Robinson House, to name a few.

As a professor of infectious diseases and health research and policy, Parsonnet has spent most of her time on her day job doing research. During the early days of her career, she homed in on a single organism, Helicobacter pylori, which is present in about 50 percent of the world’s population. Today, her work has broadened in scope to include “the totality of microorganisms.”

“What we work on now is trying to understand how children acquire infection and what it means for their lifetime of health,” she explained in a recent Department of Medicine article.

“We” is Parsonnet’s pronoun of choice, whether she’s speaking about her research collaborators or the students with whom she and her husband (Dean Winslow, MD) live at the Robinson House. While some may balk at the idea of living in such proximity to their work, Parsonnet says it’s actually a “lot of fun.” She continues: “What makes me excited about my research is the same sort of thing that makes me excited about living on campus: We work closely with so many fantastically smart people.”

Outside of the lab, Parsonnet fills her time with an array of campus-focused activities. She’s been involved with two presidential task forces, held a seat on the faculty senate and spent several years as the dean of medical education. “I’ve always been very interested in the university as an entity,” she explains.

Not surprisingly, she also enjoys teaching. Parsonnet has been teaching epidemiology and infectious diseases to undergraduates for 15 to 20 years. This year, she taught a course about investigating an outbreak.

Education, she says, is the common thread that unites her diverse interests. “It’s all about being an educator. We do that in the dorm at night, and I do it on the faculty senate. It’s all about how we make this the best educational institution it can be and how we foster the lives of the students who are here. That’s how I’ve gotten engaged in all these things, and it’s been a wonderful experience for me.”

Previously: Treating an infection to prevent cancer: H. pylori and stomach cancer and Stomach bugs' bad acid trip: Scientists find tools H. pylori uses to sense organ's wicked secretions
Photo by Norbert von der Groeben

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