Have you ever wondered about a career in academia? Even though we see our supervisors serving as faculty everyday, do you really know what to expect and how to succeed in this field? The Huck Graduate Student Advisory Committee aims to navigate you through the uncertainty. Today we present an interview from Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Dr.Frank Pugh. He has been a professor for 25 years and holds multiple titles, including the Evan Pugh University Professor and the Willaman Chair in Molecular Biology. His insight into the career of a faculty member may shed some light onto this path for you.
1. What’s your educational background? Is there anything specific that prepared you for a faculty career?
I received my BS from Cornell, and my PhD from UW-Madison, then a postdoc at UC-Berkeley, before coming to Penn State 25 years ago. The key things that prepared me the most were effective communication in lab meeting presentations and writing papers. Also, going after the most exciting scientific problems was instilled in my postdoc years.
2. What are your current roles/responsibilities? How have these changed over time?
Many of the basic roles have not changed such as teaching, conducting research, and general administrative responsibilities of the University. They have changed over time in that teaching is now focused more on graduate students and postdocs, whereas in my earlier years it was mainly undergraduates. Also, of course the research has evolved a lot – chasing the most exciting questions!
3. Was this career path something you had always considered?
Sort of… I wanted to work in the biotech world after my PhD, but then thought I would be more competitive by completing academic postdoctoral training. After that my priorities changed… I was a bit older and developed a greater interest in financial stability and raising a family.
4. What skills have made you and others in your field successful? Were there any under-estimated skills that you would like to emphasize?
Key skills were understanding the chemistry part of biochemistry, and the biochemistry part of molecular biology. That helped me think through many problems in molecular biology with solid grounding. And this has not changed for me in 30 years, and it won’t change for you over the next 30 years. And I don’t mean a superficial understanding, I mean a deep understanding that goes far beyond what your fellow students understand.
5. How easy/difficult is it to balance work and personal/family life?
It is very difficult because work constantly pulls you in. It’s important to have a life partner that pulls you back out. The best of both worlds happen when you are itching to get in to lab in the morning, and itching get home in the evening.
6. What advice do you have, about anything, for current graduate students?
Everything takes 3X longer than you think. So if you want to graduate sooner rather than later, then stop reading this and get back to work! If you are still reading, then maybe a cutting-edge scientific career is not your passion. Everyone has to find the career that works for them. It may not be what you originally thought it should be.