Joel Rothman

What brought you to UCSB?

I came to UCSB after working at the University of Wisconsin.  University of Wisconsin is a wonderful university, but I grew up in California and with the UC system, so I was ready to come back to the west coast.  It is really amazing to see the progression UCSB has made in the years that I have been here. 

What did you study in Undergraduate and Graduate School?

As an undergraduate, I went to UC Davis and majored in biochemistry.  I went to UCSF for a year, but decided to take a few gap years.  Four years later, I went back to graduate school in the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Oregon and studied yeast cell biology and genetics.  I highly recommend taking a gap year before graduate school.

What made you want to become a professor?

I first became interested in becoming a professor during my freshman year of college.  I loved the idea of getting up in front of a group of students and teaching them.  I did not initially understand the full breadth of what a professor at a research university did, but I was really drawn to the teaching aspect of it.  Now that I am a professor, I love the combination of teaching and research that I have the opportunity to be a part of.

What are your favorite parts about being a professor?

The mentorship of students and collaboration with my colleagues have been some of the most fulfilling and enjoyable experiences for me.  I enjoy watching the progression of my graduate students from their first year to their final year as PhD students.  They progress from having a limited familiarity with our research to becoming an expert in their specialized field. 

Sitting in a room with my students, postdocs, and colleagues, bouncing new research ideas off each other, and coming to interdisciplinary solutions together is one of my favorite part of being at a research university like UCSB.  This university provides tremendous opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. For example, recently I’ve begun working with Prof. Philip Lubin in the physics department on a project that may make it possible to send the first man made probe, including a chamber for tiny animals, to Proxima Centauri using a laser propelled light sail.

How did you first become involved in CSEP?

I first became involved with CSEP through the CAMP program (The California Alliance for Minority Participation).  From there, I have been involved with MARC, EUREKA, SIMS, UC LEADS, and Lunch and Dinner with Faculty. 

Has CSEP been a partner on any of your research/center/outreach grants?  How did partnering with CSEP help you to accomplish your goals for the grant?

CSEP has been extremely helpful in large educational project I direct, supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).  CSEP evaluates our HHMI programs to quantify the effectiveness of the program and the extent that it improves educational outcomes.

What do you like about working with the staff at CSEP?

The staff at CSEP are wonderful, intelligent, and personable people.  It is really great to have the opportunity to work with such amazing people.

How does the infrastructure and staff support that CSEP provide allow you to be able to do more as a mentor and educator?

Through CSEP’s MARC programs, I have been able to meet and get to know students much better than I would in a classroom setting.  I also enjoy the faculty lunches and dinners where I get to talk to students about what they want to do as a career and give them tips and advice on their potential career paths. What I love about science and what I try to communicate to the students is that as a scientist, one’s knowledge is constantly expanding; there are constantly more insights and discoveries to enjoy and a scientist never stops learning. 

What is the most rewarding part about mentoring and training students through programs that aim to encourage a diverse group of students to become scientists and engineers?

Again, one of my favorite parts of being a professor is mentoring students.  Working with bright students who want to become scientists and having the chance to mentor them is very fulfilling and enriching.  I love coming up with metaphors and analogies to help my students understand topics they struggle with, and witnessing the moment that a concept clicks into place for them is one of the greatest joys of being a professor.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I was a professional wine maker in my gap years between graduate schools.  By 25, I was the head wine maker at Buena Vista Winery, the oldest commercial winery in California. So my career as a professor of molecular biology is actually a second career for me.




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Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships
University of California
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-6105