As a department, we have two main goals: (1) exploring novel research and (2) sharing with students our fascination and knowledge of dynamic disciplines in microbiology, including bacteriology, epidemiology, fungal biology, immunology, molecular biology, parasitology, and virology. We work to achieve excellence in these areas by creating a student-centered environment that values diversity and encourages discovery, ingenuity, integrity, and collegiality.

All the Places You'll Go

The MICR 354 Scientific Writing students have taken over the homepage for the fall semester. Stay tuned as they profile alumni and share fun, inspiring, micro-related videos. To start with, catch up with...

Akshat Sharma, BS '11 (Biotechnology) and MS '13 (Microbiology)

Akshat is currently pursuing a PhD in Dr. Jenny Gumperz's lab in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before this, he completed a Master's in Dr. Jane Schuh's lab.

These are the top five things (in no particular order) that you need to know about Akshat to understand why he is much missed around VMS:

  • He uses words like, “Alas!” and “impecunious," and says things like, "Happy to help, dearest heart!" and in describing his science idol, Dr. Schuh, "She is whip-smart, assertive, and most importantly, so, so, so chic! I want to be her!"
  • If science hadn't called so insistently, he "would have been an actor, or a Henry James scholar at Bryn Mawr!"
  • He might, occasionally, do something unscientist-y like stab himself with "one of the slenderer Sharpies" while labeling tubes and then get banned from using fine-point Sharpies in lab. But then he also wows, with his wit, his literary references, and his dedication to his craft. For example, he describes a typical day as a PhD student in this way: "It usually starts at 5 a.m. I caffeinate, come into lab, set-up/perform experiments. Around 9, I either go to class or I go teach a class. I set up the next day’s experiments in the afternoon or do some data analysis, and head to the gym around 5 or 6.” Except for Fridays, of course. “On Fridays, I’ll go to the Babcock Dairy Store instead of the gym, and treat myself to the University’s homemade ice-cream.”
  • He values friendship, collaboration, and his scientific roots. “Graduate school can be isolating, and is often packed with rather reserved and/or competitive folk. Meredith Irsfeld and I rose above that. We still stay in touch. We talk science, we bicker, we keep each other sane.” And Akshat can schmooze with the best of them. “During the final year of my M.S., Dr. Schuh sent me to the Experimental Biology conference in Boston to present my results. I hobnobbed with some renowned allergists and immunologists who praised my work, made new friends (with whom I am still in touch), and felt so proud of all that I had accomplished. I was also proud that I was there representing VMS! We are Bison. We thunder!”
  • And finally...he's not too much of a Badger to play a little word association game:

Roller coaster or ferris wheel? A: Ferris coaster. How fun would that be?!

Sheldon or Howard? A: Amy Farrah Fowler.

Tumblr or Twitter? A: Twitter. My feed is very profane, but allows me to reach out to eminent scientists.

Shakespeare or Jane Austen? A: Oh, come on, now! Jess! Don't do this to me! Whose Twitter feed would be better, though? Both made epigrammatic statements about life and love. Think about that!

Will do, Akshat! For more from one our favorite VMS sons, check out his essay about the value of tackling a Master's before launching into a PhD program. He also blogs here.

The Micro Highlight Reel

This may seem like a strange video to post to a microbiology/immunology department website – a writer talking about her creative process – but indulge me for a moment.

Elizabeth Gilbert is best known for her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. It chronicles her global journey of self-renewal from Italy, where she ate, to India, where she prayed, to Bali, where she fell in love with all sorts of things, including a man who bares not a single striking resemblance to Javier Bardem. (If you don’t get this joke, then know this: there’s a movie adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love, and after women saw Bardem’s performance, they flocked to Bali to snag their very own hunky expat. Tourism skyrocketed by a gazillion percent; Bardem is a now a Balinese national treasure.)

Gilbert is also known for her follow up to Eat, Pray, Love, which is called Committed, but no one remembers that name because the book was a huge flop.

This is something she describes unabashedly in her ultra-successful TED talk (nearly nine million views!), and this is the first of two reasons this video is appropriate for the VMS website: (1) Gilbert reminds us that we can be fearless, especially in the face of failure, which is something that anyone attempting to master any craft, including science, often needs to be reminded of, and (2) She talks about creativity in a way that I’ve always wished scientists would talk about creativity.

Because science, like art, is a creative endeavor. Yes, it may be driven by logic and reason and objectivity, while artistic pursuits are often fueled by emotion and expression and subjectivity. But at the core of all this: original thought, a richness of ideas, and a storm of innovation. These things define the creative pulse, and this is one of the things that scientists and artists share. We all have a creative process. Scientists just never talk about it. I so wish we would.

Maybe this video will inspire that conversation.