The Stories Behind the Research Papers

Dr. Joel Collier is the PI of the Collier Group—a biomedical engineering lab here at Duke that is working to design new vaccines, and I have been placed in his lab over the summer. He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to me earlier this week, and I want to share some of what he told me about his experience of becoming a scientist, his favorite parts of the job, and some advice he gave me, and I am looking at a carrer in scienve.

Dr. Collier’s lab is focused on immunoenginnering, but he has not always been interested in this field. He got his undergraduate degree at Rice University in materials science—biomedical engineering, being a pretty new field, wasn’t even a major at Rice University at that time. Dr. Collier didn’t even go straight to graduate school out of undergrad. Rather, he took a few years to work in industry to satisfy his curiosity, and then returned to school at the University of Chicago. All this has led him to be a PI and a professor at Duke University. However, what I found most interesting is Dr. Collier’s perspective on teaching and running a lab.

In the interview, Dr. Collier explained that he believes labs produce two products: new technology and people, and he believes the more important of the two is the people each project produces. Research papers, Dr. Collier elaborated, contain a lot of science, but they do not really tell the story of how a discovery was made. A graduate student comes into a lab a different person than he or she leaves as, having learned more inside and outside of the lab. Each research paper has a story behind it that has to do with the growth of the person writing the paper. Dr. Collier enjoys having the opportunity to cultivate the learning and experiences of his students.

Finally, Dr. Collier dropped his final piece of advice. As a rising sophomore, I still don’t really know what I am going to do after college. In terms of deciding a career path, Dr. Collier told me to strongly consider how the day to day life of a particular job fits my personality because someone doing research, working as a physician, or working in industry has a vastly different everyday life.

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