John Hawks points out that Eric Lander has been appointed to co-chair Obama’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology along with science adviser John Holdren and Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus. Here’s how the AP article describes Lander:
Lander, who teaches at both MIT and Harvard, founded the Whitehead Institute-MIT Center for Genome Research in 1990, which became part of the Broad Institute in 2003. A leading researcher in the Human Genome Project, he and his colleagues are using the findings to explore the molecular mechanisms behind human disease.
Wait, Eric Lander teaches? Really? It turns out he does:
In addition to his research, Eric is an enthusiastic teacher. He has taught MIT’s core introductory biology course for a decade and, in 1992, won the Baker Memorial Award for Undergraduate Teaching at MIT. He has lectured to both scientific and lay audiences about the medical and social implications of genetics, and delivered a special Millennium Lecture at the White House in 2000.
But this really points out flaw in how the general public, including journalists, understand academia. If I were to describe Eric Lander’s professional appointment (or nearly any other research professors appointment, for that matter), “teaching” would not be the first item on the list. In fact, a lot of profs don’t teach at all. Research comes first, then advising grad students and post-docs (which is a kind of teaching, but not the in classroom variety that I imagine most people picture when they say so-and-so teaches at a university) and getting grants (which could be bundled, along with writing papers, under the umbrella of “research”), followed by teaching (if they do that at all). However, most folks only saw their professors as undergrads (if they went to college at all), and in that environment they were teaching classes.
Eric Lander is a professor, not a teacher. And he’s also taking steps into politics under the upcoming administration. This has got me wondering whether he may move into the position of director of the NHGRI (a post vacated by Francis Collins earlier this year).