When we were growing up, many of us wondered what it would be like to encounter our teachers “in the wild” – outside the confines of school, what did they wear? What did they like to eat? Were they cool? Who were their friends? What would they be doing if they weren’t a teacher?
Over the past year and a half, Department of Biochemistry administrative staff embraced this inquisitiveness, asking biochemistry faculty about everything from their worst subject in school to how they got into science and what advice they’d give a new assistant professor. They learned that Assistant Professor Judi Simcox enjoyed competing in barrel racing – a rodeo event involving quick turns and high speeds – when she was young. Professor Aaron Hoskins said that his friends would describe him as, “Socially awkward but occasionally funny.” If Professor Mike Cox weren’t a professor, he would be a winemaker.
Megan Pierce, a program assistant who’s also the face of the administrative staff to many faculty members, came up with the idea. “You spend so much of your day at work, and you realize that every person is unique,” she said. “This gives everyone the opportunity to read about the people they work with, but on a different level.”
When Pierce pitched her idea to team members Sarah Lynn Traver Saunders and Georgette Paxton in early 2020, they jumped at the opportunity to make the series a reality. Paxton, a senior financial specialist, emailed faculty and came up with questions to ask, while Saunders, an administrative office manager, organized.
The trio now see the series, which ended last summer, as an uplifting part of the time when they saw faculty only over Zoom: they conducted most of the work for the series during the work-from-home portion of the pandemic. By showing students and staff that faculty have full lives outside of their careers, the series also strips away academic hierarchies and demonstrates that professors are people, too.
“For me, as a nonscientist, the profiles drew me in. I think they humanize our scientists in a way,” said Saunders. “Through this series I hope that we are reminded that we’re all people, that we all have varied backgrounds and paths and interests.”
The staff interviewed 16 faculty in all. Visit each profile on the series’ collection page https://biochem.wisc.edu/facultyprofiles.
This story was written by Catherine Steffel, Ph.D.