Meet John Davis

Written by Laura Schultz for Veteran's Day

In honor of Veteran’s Day (November 11), we sat down with former SSR President and SSR Distinguished Fellow John Davis, who served in the U.S. Army for nearly 30 years.

1. What is your current position, and what does it entail?

I am Professor and Director of Research and Development for the Olson Center for Women’s Health, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE. I am also a Senior Research Career Scientist for the Department of Veterans Affairs Research and Development Service, Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System, Omaha, NE. My division is the research arm of the department. Our scientists are focused on understanding how to maintain or enhance fertility by studies on factors and pathways that prompt the very earliest stages of ovarian follicle development, the factors that contribute to fertility preservation (oncofertility), the factors and signaling pathways that contribute to development and regression of the corpus luteum, and cellular mechanisms that contribute to pathologies of the uterus and ovary. We are very involved in training the next generation of reproductive biologists, promoting effective public outreach, and serving the local and scientific communities.

2. Can you talk a little bit about yourself, where are you from? What first attracted you to the world of science? And how did you get to be in your current position?

I was born and educated in the great state of North Dakota. In high school, I developed a strong interest in biology, which propelled me to obtain undergraduate degrees in chemistry and biology. In graduate school at the University of North Dakota Medical School, my studies in physiology and pharmacology cultivated my curiosity about intracellular signaling responses to hormones. After completing my Ph.D. training, I was fortunate to land a postdoctoral position with John Marsh, a pioneer of studies on cAMP in the ovary, at the Endocrine Laboratory at the University of Miami. This began my career-long endeavor to understand the mechanisms of action of gonadotropins, prostaglandins, and cytokines in the ovary. I have been fortunate to work with brilliant and talented colleagues, students, and staff.

3. Are there ways in which you think your military service has affected your perspective as a scientist or career trajectory?

I joined the Army in 1971 and was trained as a combat medic. This was near the end of the Vietnam War and I had a commitment to the National Guard when the war ended. I enrolled in officer candidate school and served as an Army Engineer Officer in the North Dakota National Guard when I was in graduate school. I switched branches and served in various leadership roles in the Artillery in Florida National Guard. Later I served in senior logistics and operations positions in the Army Medical Corps before retiring with nearly 30 years of service. These experiences were often challenging but they enriched my life. During the course of my service, I had the opportunity to work and collaborate with many outstanding leaders and dedicated soldiers beyond the everyday sphere of my academic life. I have tremendous respect for the men and women currently serving our country and for the veterans that have served our country. Through my service, I have learned how to listen to others, to be prepared, and to lead with confidence, characteristics shared by leaders in our scientific community. It is important for all scientists to serve their scientific community by mentoring the next generation, providing peer-review of manuscripts and grants, and contributing direction and leadership in scientific societies, academia, and community outreach.

4. What impact has the pandemic had on your daily activities and your research?

Early during the stages of the pandemic shutdown, we were unable to continue laboratory work. This provided an opportunity to focus on grant writing and developing NIH program project and center grant proposals. We are back at work, but masking and social distancing restrictions hamper our group’s ability to interact more informally, invite outside speakers, celebrate individual successes as a group, and share interesting and tasty potluck lunches.

5. What are you most excited to do over the next year?

I am very excited about the funding opportunities for the young investigators and students in my Division. They have developed some very exciting multi-omics projects aimed at follicular development and luteal function. I am personally excited to gain approval from the State of Nebraska Board of Regents for our Nebraska Center for Women’s Health Research at UNMC.

6. What words of inspiration would you like to share with the future generation of scientists?

This is a great job! Identify an area of research (or two) that you really enjoy and then develop relationships with all of the fascinating scientists worldwide that work in these areas. Take advantage of all the mentoring opportunities available to you. Reading and writing are two of your best friends.

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