Biomonitoring and Health Assessment Branch
National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Research interests: Toxicology, Semen analyses, Sexual function
Steven Schrader, PhD, leads the Reproductive Health Assessment Team for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an agency within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over the last 31 years, Dr. Schrader conducted numerous studies on the health effects of occupational exposures on male reproductive health in the United States, Canada, and Russia. His most recent studies have evaluated the sexual health of bicycling police officers and the reproductive health of the adult offspring of farmers exposed to the PBB in Michigan.
Dr. Schrader served on the World Health Organization committee writing the 5th edition of the WHO Laboratory Manual for the Examination of Human Semen and was one of the lead authors of the quality control chapter. He has represented NIOSH at many national and international meetings in including the United Nations, promoting a safe and healthy work environment for men’s reproductive health. Dr. Schrader has won the prestigious Alice Hamilton Science Award for Occupational Safety and Health four times (1990, 1991, 1999, 2009). He also won Bullard-Sherwood Research-to-Practice (r2p) Award - Interventions Category in 2008.
Dr. Schrader is an active member of ASA, having served as secretary, chair of the Andrology Laboratories Committee, and is the current chair of the Archives and History Committee. He has also served on ASA Executive Council, the editorial board, organizing committees for annual meetings and the Endowment Committee. Dr. Schrader has been involved teaching quality control workshops for the Andrology lab since 1994 including courses at ASA, British Society of Andrology, American Association of Tissue Banks and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Q: How was your interest in field of andrology developed?
Dr. Schrader: I was a student in the College of Agriculture at the University of Missouri and classwork in Reproductive Physiology and Artificial Breeding lead me to pursue a Master’s Degree in Breeding Genetics and Ph.D. in Reproductive Physiology. When NIOSH wanted to expand their toxicology studies into male reproduction, I joined the Acute and Subchronic Toxicology Section first as a post-doctorate and then as a research biologist. I have spent the last 31 years studying the effects of occupational exposures on male reproductive health.
Q: Tell us about the work that you are most proud of.
Dr. Schrader: This is difficult to single out just one. Our agency’s mission is to assess the effects of workplace chemicals on health. Finding health effects and being instrumental in minimizing exposure to help workers has been very rewarding. Our work on bicycle saddles was an unique accomplishment because we were actually able to follow the public health model through hazard identification, studying interventions, implementing an intervention which reduced the health effects and then being able to promote the intervention through blogs, videos, and the news media.
Q: Describe your typical day at work.
Dr. Schrader: Moving higher into management, I spend much less time in the lab than I would like. When we are doing the actual field investigations, we set up a clinical, research andrology lab at a remote site. This site may be hotel room, a room at a factory, or if we are lucky a clinical space. We traditionally have men deliver their semen samples to us within an hour of collection. This often means very long days. Some worksites may have two or three shifts. Some men like to drop off the specimens on the way to work, while others collect on site and others like to go home and collect it after their shift or on weekends. We are typically at a field location for 2-3 weeks. We have conducted field studies across the US from Hilo, Hawaii to Groton, Connecticut and even conducted a nickel study in Monchegorsk, Russia. We always start our day running quality control specimens and verifying calibrations, and microscope alignments before starting our analyses.
Q: What is the key to success in the field of andrology, given the impact of recession/lack of grants?
Dr. Schrader: Working for a federal agency mandated by congress I received direct federal funds and do not compete for grants. There is a process within the agency to compete for funding to accomplish the goals and mission of the agency. While funding has always competitive and difficult, earlier in my career, there was a public concern about chemical exposure and health; thus funding to study the effects of worksite exposures on worker health including their reproductive health was politically correct. The current political environment of anti-government, anti-regulation, and cuts in government spending has eliminated much of the research program and funding. My current budget is less than 10% (in dollars, not adjusted) than it was 20 years ago.
Q: What has been the impact of the ASA membership in your career?
Dr. Schrader: ASA was the perfect society for my research. The interaction of the basic science, applied science, and clinical science helped me establish cutting edge laboratory assessments of male fecundity with an understanding of the potential clinical impact. The collegial informal interaction of the membership regardless of educational degrees or background allowed great discussion, mentoring, and collaborations. This led to a comfort level to contact the experts within the field for advice and help when needed. This is not to mention the lifelong friendships developed from ASA meetings.
Q: One advice you would like to give to students entering in this field.
Dr. Schrader: Believe in and support yourself. By the time you have completed your educational degrees, you have had many superiors make sure you question everything and you start your career with the belief that when you have an important accomplishment, you should be humble and others will notice and you will succeed from their promotion of your work. You do need to speak up for yourself and your work. If you do not believe your work is important, why would you expect others to? Every scientific study we do could have been done better if we would have had the gift of hindsight. If you have made an impact, say so! Too many scientists have the Eeyore complex “Thanks a lot for noticing me!” I hesitate to say this because there are few, who do not have this problem and are so self-promoting that arrogance becomes a blinding factor. So regardless of your accomplishments, don’t be afraid to note its importance, but be humble enough to listen to what those respect are saying about the accomplishment.
Any other comments.
Dr. Schrader: The field of Andrology is rapidly evolving. This generation of Andrologists is going to places beyond our generation’s imaginations. The young people of ASA need to define the niche and role ASA will play in the next 20 years. Where we have been is an important history and foundation, but should not limit where ASA should go.