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Following His Path - An Interview With Seth Thomas Scanlon, PhD '97

Long before he became Seth Thomas Scanlon, PhD and Immunization Editor at Science Magazine, he was Seth Thomas Scanlon, 8th-grade student visiting La Salle College High School on a VIP Day in 1992. As a native of Northeast Philadelphia, Scanlon had narrowed his choice to two – Holy Ghost Prep and La Salle.

After his visit, capped with a last-period Brother Linus Finn, FSC, typing class, Scanlon knew La Salle would be his high school home. And it would help start him on a journey to his current home in Leeds, United Kingdom.

As a freshman at La Salle, Scanlon recalled two teachers that had an immediate impact on what would ultimately be his career path. Already an interested scholar in science, Scanlon’s interest was fueled even further by his freshman year Biology class with Terry Gillespie ’82. His freshman year English teacher, Clare Brown, introduced him to a transformative medium for him – the New Yorker.

“Before (her class), I was reading a lot of Pop Lit,” Scanlon recalled. “This was the first time I saw what a top quality, well-written magazine could be.”

Since 2017, Scanlon has been playing a key role in producing quality, well-written content in his role as associate editor specializing in immunology, hematology, and host-pathogen interactions at Science Magazine.

Science Magazine, also referred to as Science, is the peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and is one of the world’s top academic journals. The major focus of Science is publishing important original scientific research and research reviews, as well as science-related news, opinions on science policy, and other matters of interest to scientists and others who are concerned with the wide implications of science and technology.

If the topic is related to immunization, it goes to Scanlon. He’ll spend time reviewing if it meets the standard Science criteria, send it out for review, and help the writer edit before publication. He also spends time reaching out to scientists, building relationships in hopes of attracting particular topics.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the conferences Scanlon would attend have now gone virtual. With the advent of stay-at-home measures and scientists, in essence, “out of the lab,” he said he saw an uptick in paper submissions, but only 8 percent of content received at Science is ultimately published.

Scanlon’s journey to his position at Science was not necessarily a straight path after he graduated from La Salle in 1997. When he went to the University of Pennsylvania, he originally intended to study biochemistry with the intention of becoming a chemist, but his time in the lab (“Posing questions, the journey to answering them,” he said) pointed him to study immunology.

After Penn, he spent eight years at the University of Chicago, earning his PhD and spending the last two years finishing up post-doctoral work. Still looking to add to his resume, he wanted to explore other parts of the world, both from a societal and science perspective, and he had narrowed his choices to Melbourne (Australia) or Cambridge (United Kingdom). Scanlon’s choice of Cambridge would prove wise, not necessarily because of science – it would be where he would meet his wife, Eva Heinen, a native of the Netherlands.

Heinen would soon take a position at the University of Leeds and, after getting married, Scanlon started additional post-doctoral work with a focus on humans, a new challenge as much of his previous work was with mice.

Not long after, the opportunity to join Science arose.

Further reflecting on his four years at La Salle, Scanlon recalled several of the teachers that had an impact on him, in addition to Gillespie and Brown, and that positioned him for his current career.

In his writing, Scanlon notes the effect of English teachers Bernard McCabe and Joe D’Angelo ’63, while chemistry teachers Dorothy Ponisciak and Julie Maher (H ’14) built upon his love of science.

 

Outside of the classroom, Scanlon’s participation in Speech and Debate and The Wisterian helped shape him as well. Through Speech and Debate, Scanlon learned from his coaches, Brother Rene Sterner, FSC and Brother Kevin Dalmasse, FSC, the intricacies of policy debate that continues to help him today in terms of thinking critically, analytically, and swiftly on his feet. Under the tutelage of Bill Geiger ’72 in producing The Wisterian, Scanlon learned how to put together a product, working with writers and editors, and — crucial in his industry — hitting deadlines.

 

One other aspect of his career that is influenced by his time at La Salle is a bit more subtle, but summed up in a quote from St. John Baptist de La Salle: The work of teaching is one of the most important in the church.

 

“I do think, in my small way, I’m helping spread knowledge,” Scanlon said. “Part of my job is to engage with scientists, and facilitate the dissemination of world class research, which is ultimately allowing us to better understand nature, which is the gift of God’s creation. In that regard, in my very small way, I feel that I’m contributing.”

 

Scanlon also points to his belief in the Lasallian mission of championing the underappreciated and underrepresented, helping young scientists and underrepresented groups and topics get the necessary attention they deserve.

 

Twenty-eight years after his visit to the school as an 8th grade student, Scanlon points to his time at La Salle for helping lay a foundation to where he is now in his position at Science.

 

“La Salle provided me with a really strong foundation for achieving what I needed to do academically to get to the top tier universities. At La Salle, I had a really strong foundation in writing and being able to communicate effectively. It helped me get to Penn, and from there, many of the experiences built on to where I am today.”

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