What do you think of parasites? Most people think parasites are gross and they are harmful to humans. However, many kinds of parasites help people live healthy lives. Seo Min, a professor at Dankook University (DKU), has studied them in depth. He decided to study parasitology after his professor made the suggestion. Nowadays he lectures on parasitology at DKU and many other places. He has written many books on this topic and other issues. Moreover, he has appeared on television with regards to the wide array of his research. The Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed Prof. Seo to find out more about his work and his many achievements.
Q. What made you decide to appear on television?
When I was first approached about appearing on TV, I declined the offer because I thought I was not fit for TV shows based on some experiences I had in broadcasting over three months in 1996. However, I changed my mind after I gained recognition for my work through newspaper columns. I met the presenters from Cultwo-show and decided to take part in a show based on inquiries and topics sent in by viewers.
Q. How is parasitology useful and how do you study parasites?
Parasitology can help researchers better understand social historical settings. For example, we found parasites on a mummy in Korea and in a bathroom from the Goryeo Dynasty. If parasites which are active in human’s excretion were found at a certain place, it means that the place was used as a bathroom at one time. All kinds of studies have similar processes except this subject. What makes parasitology unique is that researchers sometimes eat parasites to find what makes people suffer illness. For instance, I had eaten same food a patient ate before he became sick. This is because if new species of parasites caused such disease, I did not know what kinds of food and what kinds of parasites made him sick.
Q. What is needed to improve parasite research?
The parasite research system in Korea is irrational. Parasitology only takes place in medical school where researchers only study human parasites and ignore research in animal parasites. The study of animal parasites is lacking and more needs to be done. Parasitology should not only be about how to eradicate the parasite, but also how to examine them. The current system is deplorable.
Q. What do you find most rewarding about parasite studies?
Delivering a lecture off campus is worthwhile. This year Kyobo gathered ten lecturers to present topics in a series called the ‘Big Ten’ which is held once a month. If I had not selected parasitology, I would have not gotten the chance to take part in this lecture series.
Q. Have you ever experienced any difficulties with your research or have you been in any slumps in terms of motivation or success?
I had many problems with experiments because doing detailed work by hand is not one of my strengths. In particular, I had problems doing sophisticated experiments with issues surrounding DNA or parasite breeding experiments. I used to wonder how I would ever be able to work as a professor. However I was buoyed up by help of other people. Moreover, I overcame the problem by my writing thesis. What this means is that after realizing importance of new ideas and research papers, I wrote 11 papers in the field and as a result, I got the honor of receiving the Dankook University award for achievement in research in 2011.
Q. Was there a way to overcome the slump?
I don’t think there is any magical way to overcome a slump. The solution is simply to never give up. There will be days when you don’t write well, but keep writing. Some days your writing will be good, and some days it will be bad. To keep working is the most important. Don’t give up. Attitude is also important. In the old days, a man who wanted to write well visited me in person seeking advice. I told him to keep a blog daily and told him it would help him. Then I reviewed his sentences. However soon the sentences that he uploaded every day came to lull. His writing cycle fell behind to once every two days, two days to three days etc. until finally his writing did not come up at all. The reason he did not continue is that he was not desperate like me. When I practiced writing, I had a desire for recognition. I thought that the only way to succeed would be through writing, so I endured for 15 years before I saw any recognition.
Q. What kinds of writing did you do to improve your skills?
I wrote in journals about my daily schedule. It is helpful to have a place where you can write about anything without any criticism. Likewise, if students endeavor to achieve something, with hard work and patience, they can reach the level they hope to achieve.
Q. What do you have planned for the future?
Above all, I will continue to write books. At first, I wrote a book to change our perception of parasites. There, however, are a lot of difficulties drawing public attention to the topic, despite having great knowledge about it. So I felt a necessity to further develop my writing skills. After I feel more confident in this area, I will undertake to write books about other topics. Recently, I’m preparing a book called ‘A Parasite’s Life Story Season 2’. In addition, I’m preparing some books about how people raise their pet dog, demean women and the relationship between men and women.
Q. Nowadays, young people are worried about their future jobs, marriages and careers. Do you have any advice on how they can find a specific career that is suitable for them?
Most people think that a dream is beautiful, but reality is mean. However, I have found that you can achieve your own dreams with a lot of patience. Although I had no confidence that I could improve my writing, I did practice to accomplish my goal for 15 years. Therefore, I think that if people study in one field for a long time, they can achieve their goal. To realize your dream, you have to have patience.
Prof. Seo talked to Dankookians about his wide range of books. If people read lots of books, regardless of genres, it will be helpful when writing their graduation thesis. He suggested students wondering what books to read should check those ranked in the top seller list. It will help students find their own taste in books, and also can improve their reading speed. He especially urged students to find books that are easy to find and deal with a variety of topics.
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