From Spot and Elvis to PFC

Posted on January 19, 2005 by Inception Fertility
![](**My pathway into Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Embryology is a very indirect one.** It all began at the University of Georgia where I entered the Animal Science / Pre-Vet program to become a Veterinarian and hopefully work at a local zoo or animal clinic. After many summers assisting vets in Atlanta and realizing that maybe I wanted to do something that involved research, I decided during my Junior year to go to Graduate School, but then the dilemma followed, grad studies in what? My undergrad professor suggested that I study a topic from a class that I really enjoyed learning, something that really sparked my interest. That's when I remembered how much I enjoyed my Animal Reproduction class, where we learned all about hormones and how they effectively operate the reproductive system. In 1993, after graduating from UGA with a B.S., I began my Master's program in Reproductive Physiology. The first day I was asked to report to the UGA farm. I knew I was going to have some type of research animal but I was hoping for something small, cute and furry. As I pulled into the UGA Farm parking lot, everyone was assembled in front of the Swine Barn. Yes, my research animal was to be a pig. Being from Atlanta, Georgia, a major metropolitan city and only briefly being introduced to pigs during undergrad I was a bit worried about how I was going to handle such large animals that weighed 300 lbs or more with very sharp teeth. Then there was the smell. Over several weeks I quickly realized that pigs were the most friendly and smartest animals I had ever worked with and that I had it made over the grad students working with goats and cows. Not only could I teach my pigs to come when their names were called but also to learn how to stand still for certain procedures, including ultrasounds. They were very happy every morning to leave their pig huts to go on a daily heat-check (ovulation) walk with me through the female pens, informing me in their own language who was ready for breeding. Usually the presence of a male causes a female in heat to stand stiff and flag their ears up away from their heads. Now aren't you glad we have ovulation predictor kits for humans? My 2 years at UGA passed very quickly, I soon found myself asking the same question again, what's next? My professors urged me to continue on for a PhD after which they promised I would have a world of opportunities at hand to choose from. So in 1995, I said goodbye to UGA and my most favorite boars, Spot and Elvis and headed north to North Carolina State University, where I again would work with the most abundant domestic animal in the state. My professor, Dr. Flowers, was the Pig Expert, who knew everything to know about pigs, especially their reproductive behavior and systems. At NCSU I thought I would be just looking at hormones in blood samples. Yet Dr. Flowers was more interested in predictors of male fertility in boars. Male fertility research involved collecting another fluid. How in the world to obtain a sample from a pig? My first week was spent in the boar housing facility where I learned how to collect my first semen samples from boars. Lets just say that it is a very scary and trusting event, perched down underneath a huge 400 lbs animal for 30 minutes or more. After my "initiation" into the pig repro group, I learned all about how to study sperm binding, and egg penetration and all of the other semen analysis techniques. All I had to do was to come up with a major research topic and find a way to execute it. I decided that I would look at sperm parameters and by using IVF and fertilization results as my endpoint, I could determine what semen parameters really mattered for boars. So over the next four years, I made trips to the local abattoir to obtain pig ovaries and to the boar house, making many male pigs happy every morning. Finally in 1999, I graduated with a PhD in Reproductive Physiology. My professors sent me on my way, although disappointed that I did not want to become an Animal Science or Reproductive Physiology professor. I loved teaching reproduction and physiology to students while in grad school but I didn't want the pressure of obtaining grants and the publish or perish regime. I had decided that I liked IVF and wanted to do more in that field, but this time, I wanted to help people in some capacity. I began to investigate the human IVF field and sent out my CV. Dr. Joe Conaghan of PFC offered me a position. So in 2000, I moved to San Francisco, 3,000 miles away from everyone and anything I had every really known. It was both scary and exciting. I was trained in all aspects of Human Embryology, Andrology, and Endocrinology and now work among many other embryologists to give our patients and their embryos the best care possible. We have a great lab team, made up of diverse, experienced, well educated, dedicated, and caring individuals. Each of us is Board Certified (ABB) and takes on the responsibility to know and learn the latest technologies as they arise. Last April, I took the last High Complexity Laboratory Director (HCLD) exam and received certification as a Lab Director. But there is always something new to learn and challenging IVF cases to keep me on my toes. Working at PFC as an embryologist is a very detail orientated job, which involves a great deal of careful microscopic work, but the end result makes it all worth while, and the diverse patient cases and challenges make it all exciting all over again each day. I truly love being in the lab and assisting patients with their reproductive care. You can see it in my smile, the next time you hear me say, "Hello, my name is Jean and I am here to do your name check, can I have your first and last name?" But I especially enjoy being asked questions about your embryos. Then I get to teach all over again. **-- Jean Popwell, PhD, HCLD**

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