From Pen to Pipette

I recently served on a panel to prospective Duke students, and one of the questions I received was “What’s your major?” I didn’t think much of it until we were at a reception afterward, and Dean Sue said, “Unless if you’re doing engineering or nursing, your major doesn’t matter,” and I immediately thought of Dr. Di Giulio.

Dr. Di Giulio attended the University of Texas at Austin and did a Plan II (very similar to Program II at Duke) in comparative literature. This made me wonder… why the change from pen to pipette?

“After I graduated, I wasn’t sure of what to do. I thought maybe law, but it didn’t really interest me. My girlfriend at the time said, ‘You really like the outdoors, nature, wildlife… why not do that?'”

This led him to pursue his Masters of Science at Louisiana State University and eventually his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech. Around that time, Duke received a grant to initiate an ecotoxicology program, and Dr. Di Giulio applied and has been here ever since.

Most of Dr. Di Giulio’s work uses fish models; however, he had no experience with fish until he got to Duke! Now, he’s an expert in the field and a Sally Kleberg Professor of Environmental Toxicology. At Duke, he teaches an environmental toxicology class and an environmental health class with other ecotoxicologists.

Dr. Di Giulio loves science. When asked what he would be doing now if he weren’t at Duke, he hesitated. A few moments later, he said, “Probably trying to work in a government lab or the EPA/US Fish & Wildlife Service”; however, if he were able to start again, he would go to UC Davis to study enology (winemaking).

Dr. Di Giulio is passionate about food. He’s a wonderful cook (his favorite type of food is Italian) and has a modest wine collection. He also likes to read and watch movies in his free time.

An interesting guy comes with interesting stories, and this story is one of Dr. Di Giulio’s most embarrassing moments. Recently, a student was running an experiment using the swim tunnels. The water ran out and the system caught on fire, causing the emergency sprinklers to go off. This resulted in extensive water damage all the way to the first floor of LSRC (our lab is located on the third floor)! A restoration disaster cleanup crew had to come to repair the damage.

After hearing Dean Sue talk, I realized Dr. Di Giulio is the perfect example of how life actually is. I can study whatever I want and pursue whatever I want. I can make mistakes and be awarded a prestigious professorship (or another award). There are no protocols in life like there are in science.

You can go from pen to pipette. So for now, I choose the pipette, but I might find myself holding another weapon of choice one day… and that’s okay.

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