COLORADO—Dr. Paulette Ford, a research ecologist for the Rocky Mountain Research Station, was an unlikely parasitologist. Initially an underperforming student who was slowly falling behind on the pre-med track, Dr. Ford found herself, and her motivation, in the biology lab at the University of New Mexico.
According to Dr. Ford, “I’m a naturalist at heart. I like identifying species and discovering the world around me.”
But the lab wasn’t a place of last resort. To the contrary, according to her former mentor, retired professor Donald Duszynski, the lab is a demanding place meant for the most “promising undergraduates.” The lab and its demanding workload was a way to find out if students could “cut the mustard” when it came to research before they were offered the opportunity to do field work.
Dr. Duszynski remembers Ford as someone who worked hard and “made her work count for publishable results.” By the time she left university with an undergraduate degree in biology, Ford had identified an unprecedented eight new species of parasites and published three papers in peer-reviewed journals.
These exceptional efforts were also noticed by a graduate member of the lab, Dr. Chris T. McAllister, now a professor at Eastern Oklahoma State College. In Dr. Ford he found a dedication and drive for knowledge similar to his own.
“Research and fieldwork motivates me,” McAllister wrote. “[T]he fact she is some who loves the outdoors and the finds she has made in biological research, that really motivates her.”
To honor his friend and colleague, Dr. McAllister recently named one of his own discoveries, a Coccidia found in the intestine of the eastern mole, Eimeria paulettefordae.
As Dr. McAllister notes, “Very few individuals have a new species of any organism named in their honor. This honor will follow her for many years to come, long after we all are gone.”
For her part, Dr. Ford is just pleased to be part of a community of friends and colleagues who support and recognize each other while enjoying their work.
“You have to do what’s gonna [sic] excite you, or else the grind will wear you down,” observed Dr. Ford. “For me, this is just all so much fun!”