Regents Professor Michael Strand says a big part of teaching for him, particularly at the graduate level, is helping individuals become good scientists for the future.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned a Bachelor of Science degree and a doctoral degree from Texas A&M University. I also did a short postdoctoral fellowship after finishing my doctoral degree at Imperial College London (UK). I am currently Regents Professor with an appointment in the entomology department in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and an affiliated appointment in the genetics department in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. My responsibilities at UGA are to conduct research and provide instruction in the department of entomology. I also have some responsibilities in certain interdisciplinary programs on campus.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA toward the end of 2001. Before this I was a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 14 years. Several factors contributed to my decision to move to UGA. These included the professional opportunities the move offered and family considerations. I also have always been fond of the southern Appalachian Mountains, which are near Athens and UGA. This proximity was another plus in deciding to move here.
What are your favorite courses and why?
In general, I have always enjoyed teaching survey courses. Until very recently my primary classroom responsibility at UGA was a survey course in entomology (ENTO 4000/6000), which introduces undergraduate and first-year graduate students to the diverse biology of insects.
What interests you about your field?
Insects are the most diverse animals on Earth in terms of both number of species and absolute abundance. What interests me the most about insects is their interactions with other organisms, including microbes that cause disease in particular species or that are beneficial. I also am very interested in the cellular/molecular processes that regulate insect growth, immunity and reproduction.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I have enjoyed many things since moving to UGA, but truthfully it is hard for me to single out particular events as highlights. What I most enjoy are relatively small things, like one of my experiments or someone else’s experiments in the lab succeeding. I like talking with people I work with about how we might design a project or troubleshoot a problem. I also get a charge when a study is written and published, a project proposal is funded or something goes well for someone in the lab. Sometimes people outside of science don’t realize how many years many projects take from conception to generating publishable information. Funding of research projects is also quite difficult currently due to very tight budgets in the major scientific agencies such as the National Institutes of Health or National Science Foundation. This underlies why small successes as I mention above are what I feel most rewarded by.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
Research and teaching are completely intertwined. Everything taught in the classroom in the sciences derives from knowledge gained from the research of many individuals over usually a long period. Reciprocally, teaching is one of the most important ways knowledge gained from research is applied. Teaching is also how we as a society invest in the future by preparing individuals for careers in different fields and being productive citizens. Thus for me the inspiration in teaching is to do the best I can to present information clearly but also how to approach problems in science to generate new knowledge. In other words, a big part of teaching for me, particularly at the graduate level, is helping individuals become good scientists for the future.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope they gain proficiency in whatever the subject matter is that I am presenting, and also that they develop an understanding of how the information presented was generated in terms of history, experimental design and interpretation of outcomes. I would also hope that some students gain added experience in terms of thinking about how to approach problems, writing with clarity and presenting ideas effectively.
Describe your ideal student.
The ideal student is innately inquisitive, strongly self-motivated, organized and hard working. They also have good social skills, are polite to others and communicate clearly in oral and written form. A good sense of humor is also greatly appreciated.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
This may sound dorky, but being in my own lab and working on the projects we have going is my favorite place to be and thing to do on campus.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Work in a garden my wife and I have spent several years developing at our home, walking in the southern mountains and reading (mostly fiction). I also really like watching some sports. I am fortunate that I have been able to travel a lot, but most traveling for me is related to work.
Community/civic involvement includes….
Some conservation/environmental-related issues, a neighborhood association and supporting a few candidates with political interests that ally with my own.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I don’t have a single favorite book or movie, but I have read many books and seen many movies I liked very much. Two books I read in the last couple months that I liked were “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride and “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter. I like the former because it was written in an engaging way and taught me about a small piece of American history I didn’t know much about (the life of the abolitionist John Brown) and the latter because I liked the story and sense of humor of the author.
Examples of movies that have stuck with me for different reasons include “Dr. Strangelove,” “The Godfather,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The Big Lebowski,” “American Beauty,” “No Country for Old Men” and “The Hurt Locker.” No deep thoughts underlie these likes. They were just compelling to me, because of the story they told, the characters or the dialogue.
Proudest moment at UGA?
No proudest moments but some good ones.
Originally published March 22, 2015