Researcher Dedicates Nearly Half a Century to WER Literature Review

September 28, 2016

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Donald J. Reish has been contributing to the Water Environment Federation’s (WEF’s; Alexandria, Va.) research journal literature review since 1968. Photo courtesy of Alan Mearns, marine ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Donald J. Reish has been contributing to the Water Environment Federation’s (WEF’s; Alexandria, Va.) research journal literature review since 1968. Photo courtesy of Alan Mearns, marine ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Few commit one decade to a single task or job, but Donald J. Reish has spent nearly five decades reviewing research for the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.). The 92-year-old marine biologist joined WEF and the California Water Environment Association in 1954 after reading WEF’s journal, now known as Water Environment Research (WER).

Reish’s interest in marine pollution research led him to volunteer for the journal’s annually published literature review in June 1968. Each literature review published since has featured content contributed by Reish. The 2016 literature review published in WER marks his 48th year contributing to the journal.

“It probes me to read the literature, to keep up with it,” Reish said. “It expanded my horizons in terms of my scientific interests.”

Reviewing research benefits a career

Reish earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Oregon (Eugene) in 1946, taught high school for a year, and then returned to school. He earned a master’s degree from Oregon State University (Corvallis) in 1949, and a doctorate from the University of Southern California (USC; Los Angeles) in 1952.

After graduating, Reish stayed at USC researching the bottom conditions of Los Angeles beach harbors, specializing in marine worms called polychaetes, an indicator species that reflects the health of waterways. In 1958, he became a professor of marine biology at California State University, Long Beach.

Reish (third from left) confers with colleagues in his laboratory during the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Mearns.

Reish (third from left) confers with colleagues in his laboratory during the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Mearns.

“I benefited by reading the Water Environment Federation [journal] because I read a lot of freshwater studies,” Reish said. Reading about freshwater studies allowed Reish to find other research duplicating his findings in saltwater. “I did, really, the first work in this field,” he said. “There was very little literature on marine pollution back in the early 1950s.”

Reish continues to conduct research and teach one class at California State University. He also continues to benefit from participating in the literature review.

Reish participates as one of many co-authors, spending a total of 1 to 2 workweeks spread throughout several months reviewing about 100 articles and writing a summary about the findings from these articles, he said.  “We have to be objective; we can’t make any editorial comments,” Reish said. “We have to simply present what the author wrote.”

This year, Reish read one article describing the effect cigarette butts have on intertidal polychaetes. A research organization affiliated with California State University currently is studying the effect of cigarette butts on sediment. Taking inspiration from this literature review article, Reish recommended adding a toxicological test to the sediment study. As a result, his culture of polychaetes will be used to expand the study, he said.

In addition to working on the literature review, Reish has both written and managed content for the toxicology section of the Standard Methods book published by WEF, the American Public Health Association (Washington, D.C.), and the American Water Works Association (Denver). Being an active WEF member has helped Reish expand his professional network and has opened doors to consulting jobs throughout the years, he said.

Changes to research and the review process

Reish has noticed many changes since he began working on the literature review in 1968. Armed with index cards, Reish would walk to California State University, Long Beach’s library to search for hard copies of research articles. He would write down the names of interesting papers and mail these cards to his students, who would review his selections, write summaries, and mail them back.

Now, searches are done by computers, and instead of finding 10 to 15 articles on marine pollution, initial searches return about a thousand results. Instead of single or double authors more common years ago, now each article features many authors, Reish said.

Reish also has noticed more studies coming from developing countries whereas they used to originate primarily from the U.S. and Europe. “Studies are getting more sophisticated, going into molecular biology,” he added.

Students become peers and friends

In 1974, Reish invited his student Alan Mearns to participate in the literature review. “He handed me a stack of three-by-five cards and sent me to the periodicals at the university where I spent many hours,” Mearns said.

In 2004, Reish (seventh from left) stands with some of his former graduate students which include other journal coauthors, Mearns (fifth from left) and Phil Oshida (sixth from left). The former students gathered to honor Reish at the Southern California Academy of Sciences (Los Angeles) annual meeting. Photo courtesy of Mearns.

In 2004, Reish (center) stands with some of his former graduate students which include other journal co-authors, Mearns (fifth from left) and Phil Oshida (sixth from left). The former students gathered to honor Reish at the Southern California Academy of Sciences (Los Angeles) annual meeting. Photo courtesy of Mearns.

Mearns, currently the lead author of the WER literature review and marine ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, met Reish 54 years ago at California State University, Long Beach. Mearns asked Reish to be his professor for his master’s program thesis, spent time working in Reish’s laboratory, and the two have stayed in touch ever since, Mearns said.

Mearns has learned a lot from Reish. “One is teamwork, collaboration,” Mearns said. “Another was hands-on training on raising marine invertebrates for toxicity testing, as well as the methods for setting up toxicity tests and analyzing the results.” Mearns also learned how to “value and keep up with the scientific literature” and perfect his writing skills.

Another of Reish’s former students, Phil Oshida from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also is a long-time co-author of the literature review, Mearns said. Reish “really enjoyed his students and was basically a second father to some of us.”

In 2005, Reish asked Mearns to take over as lead for the literature review, but Reish continues to contribute as a co-author. And Reish plans to continue participating as long as Mearns does. “I would like to do at least 2 more years to reach 50 years,” Reish said.

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

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