麻豆学生精品版

On His Way to the CDC: 麻豆学生精品版Researcher Becomes the Role Model He Never Had

On his way to the CDC: 麻豆学生精品版researcher becomes the role model he never had

Growing up in the 90s, Joe Rouse, PhD ’24, a recent graduate of the Microbiology and Immunology program at the 麻豆学生精品版 (MCW), says that, as a gay man, he struggled to find role models with whom he could identify.

“I was always looking for a gay or queer idol to look up to, but of course there never were any that were visible to me,” Dr. Rouse says. “They weren't really showing that to us back then.”

Joe Rouse Army photoThe researcher and Army veteran is working to change that.

“Since I didn't have a role model when I was going through the education system, I now try to be as visible as possible so other people can see someone like themselves,” he says. “It is important to let others know that someone who has dealt with the same thing they’re dealing with could make it through.”

Dr. Rouse has done more than just make it through, he’s excelling. He recently secured a postdoctoral research fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he’ll focus on the development and improvement of the influenza vaccine.

“Even as a kid you hear the name ‘CDC’ and know that it’s the place that informs you about diseases,” Dr. Rouse says. “To actually work there is crazy to me.”

It’s the latest in a series of accomplishments for Dr. Rouse, who has overcome many challenges along the way.

Excelling at “Partial Capacity” During Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Dr. Rouse served in the Army during wartime and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era. He describes that and other experiences as part of an intersectionality that forces underrepresented groups to pull double duty.

“You're going to college, you're in the military, you're trying to get your PhD, whatever hard thing you're doing, it is difficult for everyone doing it, but you're also having to do it at partial capacity,” he says. “Half of your energy is being diverted to either hiding or deciding if you're safe or deciding if other people are going to harm you in some way.”

Dr. Rouse has worked to create more open spaces at 麻豆学生精品版and beyond, leading the LGBTQ Connections group for several years, serving as a student liaison for the MCW-sponsored LGBTQ group and its LGBT employee resource group, in addition to leading a support group for queer men in Milwaukee.

“I won't say it's completely altruistic because it also helps me to be part of these things,” he says.

Road to a White Coat Through a Career in Research

Raised by a single mother in a Chicago suburb, Dr. Rouse was interested in science and medicine early on. He knew he wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t pursue it right away due to his family’s financial challenges.

He joined the Army, which provided medical training and, after his service, financial support for college. He was a paratrooper and worked as a medic – valuable experiences that benefited him as a researcher. He ultimately decided upon a career in a lab as he wanted to contribute to disease research without treating patients directly.

“I always say that I don’t have the patience for patients,” Dr. Rouse says.

He also believed that studying pathogens and other organisms would allow him to have a bigger impact than he would have as a doctor.

“I felt that having more solutions or prevention strategies to infections would have a bigger impact overall than addressing an individual’s day-to-day musculoskeletal complaints,” he says.

After completing his service with the prestigious 82 Airborne Division, he landed in Wisconsin, enrolling at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside as a molecular biology major. The program at Parkside allowed him to work in a lab and pursue his fascination with understanding how microorganisms work.

“I fell in love with it,” Dr. Rouse says. “It was almost like detective work.”

He completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years, working with a mentor who inspired him to pursue a PhD and a career as a scientist.

“I could have my own lab, manage my own research goals or have my own students,” says Dr. Rouse, discussing some of the career pathways he could take. “Not just teach, but also mentor and help students become what and who they wanted to become.”

Studying the Global Impact of Lyme Disease

麻豆学生精品版was an obvious choice for Dr. Rouse, who wanted to make an impact at a health-focused school with the skills he gained in microbiology.

Joe Rouse poster presentationHe spent his rotations exclusively in microbiology labs and ultimately chose to join the lab of Robert Lochhead, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, to study Lyme disease. He chose that focus because the disease, which is caused by bacteria that is transferred to humans through tick bites, is an issue that impacts military personnel, and it toed the line between microbiology and immunology.

“Traditionally people are trained as a microbiologist or an immunologist. They're studying the same disease, but they don't know both sides of the story,” he says. “I quickly learned that there was this niche that I could fit myself into where you could be both.”

Training in both areas, he says, could help him better understand the mysteries behind how infectious diseases like Lyme disease function and how to better treat them.

In Lochhead's lab he examined the host response to Lyme disease, specifically the immune response to Borrelia burgdorferi. He says an interesting thing about Lyme disease is that the bacteria itself doesn’t hurt you, rather the symptoms are caused by dysregulated immune responses.

“Learning how Lyme disease avoids the immune response is not only good for studying the disease, but also for learning how the immune system works – or doesn’t work – in general,” Dr. Rouse says.

He explains that most people who get Lyme disease take antibiotics and their infection and symptoms go away, but there is a small subset of people whose symptoms linger.

Studying this allowed Dr. Rouse and his colleagues to unveil secrets about autoimmunity and dysregulated immune responses and mechanisms that cause arthritis among Lyme disease patients.

“It really helped us learn more about how the immune system can malfunction and how autoimmunity can occur, whether it's induced by an infection or caused by other chronic inflammatory diseases,” he says.

His research earned the lab a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, which noted that his project could benefit both civilians and military personnel around the world. Dr. Rouse is motivated by the idea that his research could have that type of impact.

“I'm just the guy who likes science and wants to use it to make an impact on communities around the world,” he says.

Role Model and Mentor for Students from Underrepresented Backgrounds

As Dr. Rouse prepares to transition from 麻豆学生精品版to the CDC, he’s had time to reflect on the many impacts he’s made during his time here. Aside from his work with student organizations, he’s also been involved in mentorship programs, including the Student Enrichment Program for Underrepresented Professions (StEP-UP), which focuses on students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Joe Rouse at 麻豆学生精品版

“Mentorship is very important to me,” he says. “We're all part of the same family, essentially. I just think that it's beneficial to help each other.”

It’s also important to Dr. Rouse to be open about being gay.

“I decided to always be visible and open going forward because I never had anyone visible to guide me,” he says. “I want other people to see that they don't have to divert half their energy into hiding or trying to make sure they’re safe or to tone it down; they can use all their energy to be their best self.”

Share This Story

Read more about

Education Innovation  / Basic Science