As a fourth-grader, Sarah L. Simmons kept a lab notebook detailing dissections of mussels, clams, and sea urchins. Once in college at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, Simmons began doing research with the professor who taught her introductory biology class, an experience that left her with a keen desire to combine research and teaching. Just as she finished a PhD in botany at the University of Texas at Austin, a job came up that she couldn’t resist. Among other things, Simmons administers UT’s Freshman Research Initiative, a program that allows students to work in a lab during their first year. She writes about the value and feasibility of such programs in this month’s Critic at Large column.

John Morris (far left) didn’t know anything about research when he began his neurology residency, but an opportunity to study a rare familial dementia soon changed his outlook. By...

Ole Petersen published his first paper on the pancreas in 1973. Unlike many researchers, Petersen wasn’t interested in diabetes; he wanted to understand how eating controlled secretion of enzymes important for digesting food. “It was a black box,” says Petersen. He had initially intended to become a clinician, but an early job teaching younger med students encouraged him to gain a deeper understanding of the systems he lectured on. Petersen was hooked on research after his first study—which he initiated with a friend in an empty lab space while still in medical school. “No supervisor, no grants. It was pretty crazy,” he remembers. After starting with salivary glands, Petersen quickly jumped to the pancreas, and spent the next 20 years elucidating the function of calcium signaling in normal pancreatic functions. By the mid-90s, only the details remained unresolved, and he decided to avoid “the law of diminishing returns” and find a new angle. Reasoning that pancreatitis, where the enzymes digest the gland itself instead of food, was unmined territory, Petersen has spent the last decade trying to understand what goes wrong molecularly speaking.

JuliaOleg GerasimenkoThe War Within

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