The Marshall University student newspaper, the Parthenon, has run a feature article on Dr. W. Elaine Hardman in its March 10, 2011 issue. The article highlights Dr. Hardman’s education, research, and life story. The full text of the piece can be found below and on the Parthenon Website.
Elaine Hardman was at Cabell Huntington Hospital one day picking up blood samples to test while carrying a bag of toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste.
“What are you doing with that?” asked Theodore Witte, Hardman’s research assistant and part-time doctoral student in the biomedical sciences program at Marshall University.
Witte said she saved them from all the hotels she has stayed at and gives them to the women’s shelter.
“How many people do you see doing that?” Witte said. “She doesn’t even consider herself decent; she just is.”
Hardman is the associate professor for the department of biochemistry and microbiology at Marshall and has been at Marshall for five years.
“We were very fortunate to recruit her to Marshall,” said Richard Niles, senior associate dean for research and graduate programs.
Niles met Hardman when they first worked together a couple years ago in the same study section for the American Institutes for Cancer Research. After working with Hardman, he encouraged her to apply for the open position available at Marshall.
“I knew what I was getting myself into before I applied for the job,” Hardman said.
Philippe Georgel, associate professor for biological sciences, said he met Hardman at her interview. He said she was very professional, but his first impression was that she was very quiet.
“I realized there is a lot of energy under that calm surface,” Georgel said. “She is extremely energetic and I think she is one of those researchers who thinks if there is something that can help and benefit others, she will do her best to include other people in her research and in her success.”
Hardman has been researching the subjects of nutrition and cancer for the past 20 years.
Hardman served six years as a member of the National Institutes of Health study section and spent five years on the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation study section.
Some of her earlier research was on the effects of dietary fiber on colon cancer. Now she is studying the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on various cancers, including lung, prostate, breast and colon.
Hardman said her passion for science began in junior high school. She grew up in a small town in the backwoods area of Dicey County, Fla., and always found some interest in science.
She said she asked her mom and dad for a chemistry set, but instead she received a microscope.
However, there was a dilemma.
“At the time I was growing up, what did a girl who liked science do?” Hardman said. “Maybe I could be a nurse or a science teacher, but I finally realized I wanted to be a researcher and I didn’t have a clue how to get there.”
Hardman said the only thing she thought of was to take all the science she could in high school.
By her junior year, she had taken all the science and math courses her high school provided. She decided to go to junior college and ended up graduating a year early from high school.
Within 15 months at junior college in Florida, Hardman completed her two years and went to the University of Florida. Then, seven months later, she finished her junior year at the university and was 18 years old.
She then married and had a family.
“I always knew I was still going to finish college,” Hardman said.
Hardman said she believes her marriage came at the right time.
“It worked for me,” Hardman said. “It enabled me to focus on raising my children when I was young and had more energy. It has also given me enough time at a later time in my life to get back into science and focus on it.”
The family moved to Montgomery, Ala., at the time her youngest of two children, Don, entered preschool. Hardman said then was the perfect time to go back to school and finish her degree.
Auburn University had just started a clinical laboratory, medical technology course, and Hardman said she was interested in it. She went to the department chair and asked what she should do in the field of science. He suggested she enroll in the new technology course.
She said she realized that, even though it was a delightful experience, she could not stand the idea of doing the same type of work every day for the rest of her career.
Her family moved again to San Antonio, Texas, where Hardman found a part-time job at the Cancer Research Therapy Center as a medical technologist.
“I was working with cancer patients,” Hardman said. “I was reading their blood smears, learning about their cancers and learning about their treatment.”
At the time her oldest child, Sharon, entered college, Hardman said she heard about a full-time position as a research assistant available at the University of Texas Science Center.
Hardman said she was ready for a full-time job and started working hard at it. Two years into the position, she said she practically ran the project the center was working on.
Again, however, Hardman made the decision to go back to school and further her education. This time she applied for graduate school at the University of Texas and finished her doctoral degree in cell biology in two years and three months.
“Most students work at it for five to six years,” Hardman said. “But I had already been working on it in the lab for two years.”
As a graduate student, she received her first grant funded by the American Institute for Cancer Research and a pre-doctoral grant. She has also received funding from the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health for her research throughout the years.
“Things have fallen into place for me,” Hardman said. “Partly because I was ready for the next step and the next step would come at the time I was ready for it.”
Out of the lab, Hardman can be found cross-country skiing, around campus or in the park, according to some of her students.
“Whenever there is enough snow, she will go do that,” said Anne Silvis, a biomedical sciences doctoral candidate for cancer biology from Hurricane, W.Va. “She is very adventurous and she is going to do whatever she wants to do and she really doesn’t care what people are going to think. She really enjoys life.”
Hardman said she was once a Girl Scout and likes to help with teaching young girls how to white water raft. She also said she likes to stay active, and her students seem to be a little jealous of that.
“Well despite her age, she is perhaps the most active person I know and would probably put me to shame in terms of physical health, and I consider myself in pretty good shape,” said Johannes Fahrmann, a biomedical sciences doctoral student from Dresden, Germany.
Hardman even plans surprise trips for her students. Witte said Hardman would take her lab members on a boat ride for lab meetings.
“Unbelievably, you think that you’re going into a scary lab meeting and you find that you’re going on a boat ride and she is making upside-down cake,” Witte said. “The trick is that she grandmothers us into performing, so you can’t let her down.”
Many of the students interviewed said she was a wonderful role model to them. Silvis said she is inspired by Hardman’s success in the field of science as a woman who has a family.
“She is very important to me having a family myself,” Silvis said. “It’s very comforting. And I think for women to see that, even though she has a family and kids in graduate school, they can accomplish as much as she has in her professional life and still have a family life.”
Hardman said she hopes she is always directing her students in the right direction but may not think she is necessarily the right leader for the job.
“I have always thought of myself as fairly shy, but other people say that I’m a pretty strong leader,” Hardman said. “I don’t quite see that.”
“Things have fallen into place for me; partly because I was ready for the next step and the next step would come at the time I was ready for it.”