Dr. Jerome Goddard will be the first to say it: he’s a “crazy bug man” and has been for time immemorial.
A high school science class bug collecting assignment set the wheels in motion for a life submerged in entomological ecstasy.
Born and raised in rural Mississippi, a young Goddard played with chemistry sets and poured over science books cultivating an early interest in biology.
“My mom was a welfare office director; that was in her character,” Goddard said. “She’s responsible for my sense of honor.”
Goddard’s father was cut from the cloth of a different scientific discipline — psychology. Goddard credits him with his sense of humor.
Anyone who’s witnessed any of Dr. Jerome Goddard’s speaking engagements knows that the elder Goddard (“A good Pop.”) must have been pretty entertaining in his own right, as Jerome Goddard is practically the Will Rogers of bug talks. His signature sense of humor makes him one of the most compelling speakers in the world of entomology and pest management.
Bugs, Biology and Beyond
Goddard received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biological science from the University of Mississippi in 1979 and 1981 respectively, before going on to nab a Ph.D. in medical entomology from Mississippi State University (MSU), where he makes his living today as an extension medical/veterinary entomologist. Before that, Goddard was the State Medical Entomologist at the Mississippi Department of Health.
He also held two appointments with the University of Mississippi Medical Center — Clinical Assistant Professor of Preventative Medicine and Assistant Professor of Medicine.
But Goddard’s contributions to pest management go beyond the academic.
In 1985 Goddard was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) where he served as a medical entomologist in the Epidemiology Division of the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, for more than three years. In 1988, he was named Best Academic Instructor in the Residents in Aerospace Medicine Course and Company Grade Officer of the Year. During this time, he recognized a need that had not been met in the scientific community.
“There were no real medical entomology textbooks so I decided I would write a book about bugs for doctors,” Goddard said.
His book, “Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases Affecting Military Personnel,” was published by the United States Air Force, and written when Goddard was around 30 years old. And while he never limited himself to carving out a single niche, Goddard quickly made a name for himself in this way, by marrying entomology to public health issues. His books “Infectious Diseases and Arthropods” and “Physician’s Guide to Arthropods of Medical Importance” continue to be popular texts making a substantial impact.
During his two decades serving as the State Medical Entomologist at the Mississippi Department of Health Goddard designed, implemented and supervised all vector control programs relating to public health throughout the state, including the control program put in place along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
“We spent about two months after the storm along the coast putting a disaster vector control plan in place,” Goddard said. “This was the practical application of everything I’d learned.”
Goddard’s voice also has become an important one for the industry, as he is one of the most sought-after speakers in his field. In addition to shedding light on mysteries of the insect world he’s built bridges connecting pest management to social health issues by explaining their symbiotic relationship.
The good doctor has written more than 150 scientific publications on medical entomology and is the author of six books, including two novels: “The Well of Destiny,” about a mosquito-borne disease outbreak, and “Vital Forces” about virus behavior. He’s even published two books geared for science-minded youngsters.
From 2008 to 2012, he spoke to more than 19,000 people at conferences in 23 states and the United Kingdom.
However, out of all the noteworthy highlights of Goddard’s career, there’s one moment in the sun that he said he’s asked about most: his appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” where he went head to head with Stephen Colbert in one of the comedian’s signature over-the-top interviews. The topic? Bed bugs, naturally. For now Goddard said he plans to continue along the path he’s on.
“I intend to be a professor another 10 years and continue researching, writing, teaching and thinking about medical entomology,” Goddard said. With his wife (and sometimes co-author), Rosella and his two grown sons, the doc continues to lead a charmed life where science, medicine, bugs and books intersect.