Episode 3- The Interview (starring Dr. Wray)

His education and topic of interest:

Dr. Wray got his undergraduate degree in biology at William and Mary before arriving at Duke with the mindset of going the MD-PhD route. Though is changed, he always had the intent of going into research, particularly with a focus on biology. After he obtained his PhD from Duke, he completed his postdoctoral training in Indiana University and the University of Washington and later returned to Duke as a faculty member.

How have his interests changed:

When he was a child, Dr. Wray was interested in becoming a marine biologist, though, admittedly, more from the idealized image he had of marine biologists spending time diving around coral reefs than from an the reality of spending long hours in a lab conducting research. Eventually, however, he became an evolutionary biologist with a focus on how gene regulation evolved, and he spoke about the importance of being able to reinvent yourself as time goes on and you become more attuned to what your interests and strengths are.

What he teaches/has taught here at Duke:

Originally, he taught Bio 201 and did so for 4 years. Currently, he does seminars for seniors and graduate students that are about genomics. He also does guest lectures from time to time throughout the year.

What he enjoys about science:

To Dr. Wray, one of the most enjoyable parts about science is its entrepreneurial nature in that there is much freedom to be found in doing research and to make progress, one sometimes has to take risks in what they decide to investigate. However, one should still be mindful and reasonable in the approach taken; safe, but not too safe. He also enjoys this environment because its freedom fosters creativity and is far from the mechanical process that people sometimes consider scientific research to be.

What he dislikes about science:

There really isn’t much that Dr. Wray genuinely dislikes about science. Though he understands and has felt the frustration of how long it can take for research to be done and even then, it may simply fail to work, these things are just part of the process and everything done in research is valuable anyway, success or failure. Really, any dislike that Dr. Wray has that relates to science is the way that society perpetually ignores the life-changing advancements made by using science, and that the majority of people (in the US, in particular) could name 10 professional sports players with no trouble at all, but would hardly be able to name 2 or 3 living scientists.

Disasters in the lab:

Luckily, there have never been any major problems to happen in the lab, though there was one instance when someone left the water on in the lab and upon returning, there was water flowing down to the lower floors, much to the annoyance of the lab below.

How projects make it into his lab:

Generally, projects arrive in Dr. Wray’s lab from students that have ideas about what they would like to investigate. Though those ideas are usually not very interesting or possible to do in his lab, from time to time there will be an idea that seems worthwhile to pursue. Once the project begins, Dr. Wray becomes invested in the student’s topic of interest so that he can provide them with the support they need, but he also tries to allow the student room to make their own decisions about how they approach their research.

Why there are toy dinosaurs on his bookshelf:

One of the classes that Dr. Wray used to teach was a class on dinosaurs that was meant as a way for students in non-science oriented majors to receive their science credit in a fun, easy class as opposed to taking Bio 201 or 202. As a result, he amassed a collection of toy dinosaurs to use as props in the class. Though he is no longer doing  that class, he has kept the dinosaurs. When ask about which species is his favorite, he said that it was impossible for him to choose as there are so many with their own unique qualities that make them fascinating.

Book recommendations:

If anyone happens to be looking for something to read on the general topic of science and how to think about science , Dr. Wray recommended reading Naturalist, an autobiography by E. O. Wilson. Additionally, he also recommended reading Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine by Randolph M. Nesse as a good novel for those interested in science.

Gregory A. Wray, PhD


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