James LeDuc, Ph.D., is the director of the Galveston National Laboratory, one of the largest active biocontainment facilities on a U.S. academic campus. LeDuc joined UTMB in late 2006 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where he was the influenza coordinator and director of the Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases. With more than four decades of experience working in the fields of biodefense and public health, LeDuc’s work has taken him around the world, from West Africa, where he began his professional career as a field biologist working for the Smithsonian Institution, to Brazil and Panama during a 23-year career as a U.S. Army officer in the medical research and development command.
Between leading the charge in addressing emerging infectious diseases and threats of bioterrorism, and spending time with his seven grandkids, LeDuc doesn’t have much down time. He took a few minutes to talk about his busy life inside and outside of the GNL.
What does the Road Ahead look like for you?
I’m proud of the fact that the GNL is fully operational and that we are making real contributions to important global health challenges. I get great satisfaction in being involved at the intersection of science, global public health and national security and I hope to continue down that road.
How do your past positions with the CDC and the Army help you in your current role?
I was incredibly fortunate to enter the Army as an Officer and offered the chance to work with some of the greatest scientists I’ve ever known. I was given tremendous opportunities for growth, independence and responsibility, and I benefited greatly from Army support for my graduate education. At CDC, I similarly enjoyed working with a dedicated, outstanding cadre of public health professionals and together we faced some of the most challenging outbreaks seen, including SARS. At CDC and in the Army I learned the importance of solid technical skills, the value of teamwork, the global nature of infectious diseases (and just about everything else), and the essence of leadership. The friends and acquaintances I’ve made and the experiences we have shared at these institutions have shaped my career and life immensely.
What’s something in your career that you had to deal with that you never anticipated?
Budgets, personnel management, communications, career moves and relocations, raising a family in foreign countries and about a thousand other things.
I understand your college major was zoology. Have you always been interested in animals?
I majored in zoology because I didn’t want to take a course in botany. As it turned out, my focus on zoology led to some great field trips collecting mammals, which later generated a job offer from the Smithsonian Institution to work on the African Mammal Project, which was a project sponsored by the U.S. Army. This opened a path to becoming an Army Officer. Funny how these things happen.
Where’s the “wildest” place your work has ever taken you?
I’ve been fortunate to have experienced many unique adventures throughout my career, starting with living in a tent for two years while working for the Smithsonian Institution in West Africa on the African Mammal Project. During this time a colleague and I had a Ford pickup truck, three tents, camping and collecting gear and, along with an African cook and another helper, we collected small mammals at sites in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and what was then Dahomey (now Benin), with short forays into Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) and Nigeria. This was nearly 50 years ago (1967-69) and the world was a very different place then. It was a wonderful adventure and an educational experience that helped shape my life.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I have a wonderful family with three grown children and seven grandchildren and a very energetic wife. Life outside of work is as busy as it is in the GNL.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I spent the first half of my junior year at the University of Hawaii, mostly surfing.
What’s something you always wanted to do but have not done yet?
I’ve been to many parts of the world, but I still enjoy traveling and would like to see Antarctica, Iceland and the southern parts of Argentina and Chile, among others.