Assistant Professor, Department of Biology
Principal Investigator, Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Immunology
College of Humanities and Sciences
What drew you to the life
sciences and why did you choose your specific field?
in how things
work drew me to science. Things that weren’t alive didn’t keep
me intrigued very long, so I got into biology. My interest in staying
sick people pushed me towards laboratory research. My interest
controlling gene expression, as it relates to the immune system’s
and cancer, specifically) got me here.
Why did you decide to go
beyond the lab into the classroom to teach?
I love the feeling of
knowledge to people. One of our biggest problems (I think) is
a lack of education in the field of health sciences. When people
doctor, they generally don’t know what questions to ask, what
treatment options are available, or how treatment will affect them.
that doctors don’t especially like these questions and a lot
of time don’t
really have the answers I want. Beyond that, I really, really
enjoy educating students who will go on to be clinicians. I hope
their exposure to research will make them “think outside the box” when
dealing with their patients.
What is your philosophy of teaching? How do you teach and why do
it that way?
In the classroom I play an extrovert (I’m not), like the whole thing
is an acting experience. The jokes are rehearsed, the delivery is
polished — I prep like crazy before I teach. Even in areas
where I am well-versed, I will study about two hours for every hour
of lecture. I try hard to learn as many student names as possible,
and use the names in class. I try to make each student feel like
I am teaching “right at him”. I find teaching fun but
exhausting. I don’t know how the average high school teacher makes
it through the day.
What is it you want your students
to leave your class with after it’s all over?
A sense of how things fit together. I teach only upper-level undergrad
classes or graduate-level courses, so I try to draw on other classes
they have had, and get them to synthesize things into a big picture.
I want them to leave feeling like they learned something, not memorized
What do you want students who may be interested in any
of the life sciences to know?
That this is an exciting time. There
are so many questions to ask and answer. There are lots of interesting
job opportunities. Three years ago I couldn’t have told you what
a bioinformaticist was, let alone define proteomics, genomics,
or biological complexity. This stuff is all commonplace, or nearly
right now. If you like biology, this is a great time take on the
Life Sciences, and it’s fun too.
What do you get out of teaching?
In a selfish way, I get to understand the things I care about better
than I ever would have without teaching. Also, I get to be involved,
in a small way, in pushing people towards their goals. Teachers
are stepping stones, cheerleaders, evangelists. I love the journey.
proudest moments are when students call me back after years and
tell me what they’re up to, and how far they’ve gotten. I get to
like I helped get them there in a small way.
Do you learn anything
from your students?
Oh good Lord, yes. I answer about half the students’ questions with “Well, I don’t know, let me think about that ...” They
ask great questions, and I am forced to really stay on my toes.
But there’s a lot more to it than that: I have learned a lot about
myself and about life in general. Things like how strong people
can be (ever teach recent immigrants from war-torn countries?),
how the small stuff just doesn’t matter (ever teach a student recovering
from a head injury?), and how almost everyone is trustworthy, hard
working, and just wants a chance to succeed. I sometimes feel like
I get a great snapshot of America every time I walk into the classroom.
do you do in your “free” time?
I missed the last two questions: I have three kids under age 5 at
home. This is my ’second job,’ and it’s about all I have time for
right now. As a father and homeowner, I like to paint, tile, caulk,
watch “Dragpn Tales” and “George Shrinks,” surf
the gerbil tubes at the Burger King playland, pretend I am a phenomenal
guitar player (my Itsy-Bitsy Spider rendition is untouchable!),
and play the role of the strongest, tallest, loudest man my kids
have ever met. Until they are 13, I am superman. I think they believe
I could fly if I wanted to. In reality, I am just an underweight
mediocre distance runner who spends a lot of time with microscopes
and people in their 20’s trying to “find themselves”.
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