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Portrait of Lindee Mason

LSRC supervisor shares insight gained at academic crossroads

By Blake Sebring

January 18, 2024

Though she’s the Life Sciences Research Center supervisor, Lindee Mason never dreamed her path as a Purdue University Fort Wayne student would lead to this role. In fact, it required something of a Mastodon makeover driven by a change in attitude and pursuit of a different degree. Now she’s using her struggles then as a way to help the students she currently teaches.

As a first-generation student in 2014, Mason was on a pre-nursing path before finding herself on academic probation. Though a bright student, she thought she wanted to become a doctor, but couldn’t find the motivation to regularly attend a couple of required classes, figuring she’d already learned the content in high school and could skate by only taking the exams.

When that plan didn’t succeed, she was notified of her status and had to decide whether she wanted to seriously pursue a degree or follow her mother and work the rest of her life in a pharmacy.

Mason decided to, as she said, pull herself up by her bootstraps and stop messing around. At the time, she had no idea she could change majors or how to go about it, eventually switching to biology after classes had already started and only one requisite class was still available.

“It was Dr. (Ahmed) Mustafa’s aquaculture class,” Mason said. “I didn’t even know what that was, so I Googled it. I was like, `Whatever. Why is it so important and why do we need it?’”

But it turned out to be a life-changing moment as Mason, B.S. ’19, MS ’21, learned what farming of fish is and why it’s so significant. It’s currently the world’s fastest-growing food sector.

“He was talking in class about how we need fish veterinarians now,” Mason said. “A lot of our vets are for cats and dogs, and there’s not a lot who specialize in fish, so a lot of fish in these farms are not getting the proper care, and those vets are in very high demand.”

Mason considered that option until realizing it would take the same years in school as a human medical doctor. She eventually went to talk to Mustafa who invited her to join his lab and do some research with him. Mason was hooked for life—no pun intended.

“During her undergraduate studies, she was lost and could not find the right direction,” Mustafa said. “Once she took one of my classes, she found my teaching style interesting and realized that she had learned a lot. Since then, she took shelter under my wings and learned how to be a scientist.”

Mustafa and Mason have collaborated on publishing scientific papers, including one just before the start of the new year. While also saying he’s very proud of Mason, Mustafa said she is very sincere about her work.

“It was the only class left, and isn’t it crazy how the littlest, tiniest things change your whole outlook?” Mason said.

Mason considered becoming a professor, but another career option presented itself. While working as a teaching assistant for Mustafa in an anatomy class she almost failed as a student, she was also working with Carla Barrett in the Life Sciences Research Center. When Barrett decided to retire, Mason was a natural choice to assume the role. Along with teaching classes, she essentially facilitates everyone else being able to conduct their studies.

For all the research animals on campus, Mason is in charge of ordering, feeding, cleaning cages, some minor health care, equipment maintenance, and making sure the animals are treated humanely. She continually studies to obtain certificates in the field, and there are strict standards and protocols for everything. She also continues researching with Mustafa to find appropriate all-natural alternatives to antibiotics and chemicals used on fish farms.

Mason uses her previous challenges as an undergrad to help students in her classes find their paths.

“I often relate to them my own journey with struggling and almost getting kicked out,” Mason said. “Sometimes I tell them, `Either you are not studying the right way or you are not where you are supposed to be. There might be something better for you out there, so let’s help you find that.’”