Interview with Dr. Charles Gersbach

Dr. Charles Gersbach began his training as a biomedical engineer while he was an undergraduate at the Georgia Institute of Technology. As the son and nephew of many engineers, he decided to major in chemical engineering and was never exposed to biomedical research. After watching his friends enter the workforce at companies like Doritos, he realized that those jobs never interested him and he searched for other career options. During his last summer as an undergraduate, Dr. Gersbach worked in a lab and fell in love with research. Due to his lack of experience, he had trouble applying for graduate programs, but was admitted to Georgia Tech and got a PhD in Biomedical Engineering.

Now, Dr. Gersbach is a professor of Biomedical Engineering at Duke where he teaches two classes: one is a requirement for BME undergraduates and the other is a BioDesign elective course. He enjoys teaching the design course because the students are much more engaged. Since it is an elective and the course material includes innovative, cutting-edge methods, the students have a desire to learn which makes teaching it much more enjoyable. His favorite part about teaching though is watching his students go off to do amazing things in science. Watching graduate students that he mentored in his lab earn faculty positions at other universities and publish papers gives him the satisfaction of knowing that he taught them well. Nurturing young students to become contributors in his field is the best part of teaching for him.

Though Dr. Gersbach is well-established in his field, he has no lack of embarrassing stories within the lab. Due to his busy schedule, he has less time to spend in the lab doing actual experiments but is sometimes asked to help when his students go out of town. During one Christmas season, a few of his graduate students asked him to passage their cells while they went home for a few days. He forgot and the students returned to find all of their cells overconfluent and dead. They asked him to help the next year as well, but he accidentally contaminated the cells and again they died. Since then, they’ve stopped asking him to passage their cells and found other arrangements.

When asked about any advice he has for young undergraduates looking to get started in research, Dr. Gersbach told me to take advantage of the many opportunities offered at Duke. Since he was late in entering research, it took him nearly ten years to catch up, so programs such as BSURF are important to take advantage of. He also advises to try many different things and explore the various topics within science. He never thought he would like research until he worked in a lab, so sampling diverse subjects can help young students to learn about the careers they may want in the future. Overall, I enjoyed interviewing Dr. Gersbach and learning about the background of my mentor. It taught me there is always time to change directions as I discover my interests and to take advantage of the multitude of opportunities that Duke has to offer.

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