When about 150 Biology 172 students opened their notebooks on Wednesday, the lecturer at the head of the class was not their usual professor; it was University President Mark Schlissel.
Schlissel discussed personalized medicine and the human genome as a guest lecturer Wednesday morning in Rackham Auditorium.
Biology Lecturer Laury Wood invited Schlissel to teach her Biology 172 class for a day. Schlissel’s lecture took the place of Wood’s regular Wednesday lecture. Before the lecture, Wood said her students were looking forward to hearing from Schlissel since they had spent time in class studying the human genome.
Schlissel’s lecture drew on his lengthy career in the sciences. He graduated from Princeton University with a degree in biochemical sciences and earned both an M.D. and Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he also served as a faculty member later in his career. He also served as dean of biological sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, from 2008 to 2011 and has years of research experience in biology.
Before he assumed the president, Schlissel was a noted researcher in the field of immunology. A focus of his work centered on how immune cells form in bone marrow. In 2013, he published five papers while provost at Brown University, and during this time continued to work with his last Ph.D. students at Berkeley.
As he walked into Rackham, Schlissel said he was excited to have the opportunity to teach, especially about a subject he is passionate about and in which he has a lot of experience.
“I love to teach, and I was invited by a faculty colleague earlier in the year who thought it would be both fun for me and fun for the students, and I jumped at the chance,” Schlissel said.
At the start of his lecture, Schlissel noted that it was his first time teaching a class at the University.
“I intend to do some more of this as the years go by, but thanks for being my guinea pigs,” Schlissel said.
Several of Schlissel’s comments centered on recently developed biological research tools used to understand the basic functioning of cells and organisms. Schlissel said these tools are now used to combat disease and improve human health.
“It really represents one of the future trends in clinical care,” Schlissel said.
To gain a sense of the audience’s future career plans, Schlissel asked how many students plan on applying to medical school. A majority of the student audience raised their hands.
LSA freshman Eli Simons, a Biology 172 student, said he was fascinated by Schlissel’s professional background in biology.
“I think its really exciting that we have someone who is so experienced in this growing field that is likely the future of many cures of different diseases,” Simons said. “The fact that he is president of our school adds a lot of gravitas to what he has to say.”
Another student in the class, LSA freshman Michael Stando, said he was particularly impressed by how Schlissel took the time to interact academically with students.
“I think it’s nice he spends his time with the student body,” Stando said. “People actually see him as a person rather just a figure.”