Jeff Hollingsworth pushed a small cart full of lab coats, syringes and glassware down the sidewalk outside of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Johnson Science Tower in 2020. He had the sidewalk to himself, as the majority of the campus’s facilities were closed at this time in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As he neared the campus chemistry department, he pulled a mask over his nose and readied an invoice for the lab supplies he was delivering—important preparations for meeting one of the few people he would see that day.
As a site technician for Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., Hollingsworth’s job at this time involved making deliveries and sales to various science labs around campus, which the federal government co-opted to aid with the state’s COVID-19 research and testing efforts. While this task may seem small in the grand scheme of combatting the pandemic, Hollingsworth’s work with Thermo Fisher Scientific played a large part in Mississippi’s response to COVID-19, as the lab materials he delivered were integral for COVID-19 diagnosis and research in Hattiesburg.
Now a senior site technician and 12-year employee for Thermo Fisher Scientific, Hollingsworth recalls his involvement in the scientific community during the COVID-19 pandemic as a time when he felt he was making a difference in the world around him.
“That is a point of pride for me, being involved in the healing portion of the lockdowns,” he told the Mississippi Free Press.
While Hollingsworth works with researchers and scientists every day for a company named Thermo Fisher Scientific in a building named the Johnson Science Tower, he does not claim to be a scientist; Hollingsworth received his degrees in biblical studies and in history from William Carey University.
“I don’t have a science background, so when someone says, ‘Hey can you get this obscure chemical?’ I often have to ask them to explain it a little more,” Hollingsworth said.
Meeting Clients, Making Friends
Jeff Hollingsworth started working at Thermo Fisher Scientific in 2011. His friend, a senior site technician there who at the time served as the dungeon master for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign Hollingsworth took part in, suggested that he apply for a job as a site technician. The two maintained their roles as the two active employees in the Thermo Fisher storeroom until his friend left in 2020. With almost 10 years of experience at the time of his coworker’s departure, Hollingsworth was the obvious choice to fill his friend’s role as senior site technician.
Before his job at Thermo Fisher, Hollingsworth worked as a salesperson for GameStop and Best Buy. While his current workplace looks much different than either of his previous places of employment, Hollingsworth still acts as a salesperson for Thermo Fisher Scientific, selling solvents and lab coats instead of video games and widescreen televisions.
Though Hollingsworth has responsibilities outside of sales as a senior site supervisor, he said that sales and customer interactions are his favorite parts of the job, especially when he considers his diverse pool of clients.
“I’ve interacted with people I never thought I would interact with,” Hollingsworth explained. “Working on campus, I work with grad students, doctors and adjunct professors. I get to meet people from India, China, Nepal, Australia and all over the world. I really like the diversity of our customers. It’s really nice to see and meet people whom I might not otherwise have the chance to.”
The technician said he finds joy in building relationships between his storeroom and the many labs around campus, ranging from polymer science to nursing and beyond.
“I’ve made a lot of friends working here,” Hollingsworth said. “There are a lot of grad students from all over the world who may not have the time to get out a lot, so being a friendly face in the science storeroom, I get to meet a lot of people and talk about their interests.”
Supplying the Tools for Scientific Advancement
Above all, however, Hollingsworth appreciates his job for how it allows him to be involved in the sciences. Hollingsworth hopes that his efforts are beneficial for advancing scientific research and promoting progress.
“Even if we’re not science researchers, we’re still trying to help the sciences,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be able to help, but I’ve never felt much of a desire to learn the sciences, so being able to provide the tools for someone to do research has been very beneficial for me.”
Hollingsworth sees the progress that science makes in real time while supplying the labs on USM’s campus. He recalled ongoing research that he has discussed with his customers, and while he said he does not often see the end results of many research projects, he is happy to be a part of the process.
“USM has amazing research that I love to hear about,” he said. “I know somebody doing Alzheimer’s research. I know someone in the polymer-science department who is working on biodegradable plastics. I’m an environmentalist, so it’s very important to me to be involved in that.”
In addition to these global issues, Hollingsworth often works with scientists who conduct research around Lake Thoreau in Hattiesburg, an area with a high diversity of wildlife that is often misunderstood as dangerous. These researchers visit nearby schools to educate students in the area about the topics they study.
“They teach high schoolers and middle schoolers the importance of wildlife conservation, like showing them what snakes are dangerous and not dangerous so that you don’t kill them just because they are scary,” Hollingsworth explained. “I think that is really important, especially in more rural areas around Mississippi, where a lot of people have fears of certain animals, reptiles and other creatures like that. These researchers have taught me a lot just from interacting with them.”
Ultimately, he believes science is how we as people understand the world, and that sentiment propels him and keeps the job interesting.
“Even if we get it wrong sometimes, the process of the scientific method is great to get (to the right answer) eventually,” Hollingsworth said.
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