This past August Indiana University welcomed a new addition to its chemical biology research faculty, Dr. Jonathan Schlebach. Dr. Schlebach came to IU following a post-doctoral position at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, to begin setting up his own research program and teaching graduate and undergraduate courses. He offers some insight on what his research program will cover, his career choice, and his advice to students interested in looking into scientific research.
First, what is the focus of your laboratory and why did you choose that area over other topics in your research field?
J.S.- Our work primarily focuses on the mechanisms by which mutations in integral membrane proteins give rise to disease. By studying the effects of pathogenic mutations, we not only learn about the molecular basis of disease, but also the physical nature of membrane proteins and the biochemical pathways that mediate their cellular homeostasis.
What Dr. Schlebach means here is that his group focuses on learning the underlying biological protein processes that cause disease. Through studying these processes, one can learn fundamental information about the proteins themselves, such as their normal functions in a healthy system.
How did you know that you wanted to become a professor over other career paths?
J.S.- I am happiest when I have the freedom to come up with new hypotheses and chase them down in the lab. It keeps me up at night, and the thought of losing that outlet was painful. While I know that there are a wide variety of interesting alternative careers, I thought I owed it to myself to take a shot at an academic career that might afford the opportunity to follow my own scientific curiosity.
What advice would you have for students that are interested in pursuing research on either an undergraduate or graduate level?
J.S.- The only way to know whether you enjoy research is to try it out. Don’t be afraid to send random emails to people inquiring about opportunities to get involved. Most labs are happy to accommodate new comers with diverse backgrounds. First hand experience will give you an idea whether you have the passion. In the event that you decide to pursue graduate studies, the experience will also give you an important leg up in the application process.
Finally, is there anything you would’ve like to have known about graduate school as an undergraduate?
J.S.- What I don’t think many people understand is that graduate school is not at all like any of your previous training. It is a new way of life. This is why it is important to get some research experience before committing to another long journey. Nevertheless, if you like research, it can be incredibly fun and rewarding. You learn to think about the world in new ways, and are given academic autonomy for the first time in your career.
Dr. Schlebach, thank you for talking about your research interests and your sound advice for students considering a profession in research beyond the undergraduate level. To learn more about Dr. Schlebach’s research group, please visit his group webpage at http://www.indiana.edu/~jpslab/.