Biochem Blogs

Biochemistry blog, science writing

It is a people business, after all


Clay Clark
I'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope


Drs. Tom Baldwin and Miriam Ziegler have been a team for over four decades. As former trainees in the Baldwin/Ziegler lab, Carole Stivers, Zak Campbell, and I felt that it was an appropriate time to reflect on over forty years of science research and education by the Baldwin/Ziegler group.

Tom and Miriam have been a team since they both became interested in bacterial luminescence while training with Woody Hastings at Harvard University, and throughout their careers they incorporated cutting-edge research technologies into their studies of bacterial luciferase. Many times Tom and Miriam recognized how the changing technologies could be used to drive their research program, and the field in general, into new areas of investigation, often times before their colleagues grasped the vision of how the new technologies could advance the field.

Their passion for research and education took them to the University of Illinois and Texas A&M University as faculty, then to the University of Arizona as department head of Biochemistry, then to UC Riverside as Dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. Trainees were never left behind or forgotten, as Tom and Miriam continue to provide advice and mentoring even as some of the earlier students reach their time of retirement. They have spent countless hours over the years serving science societies and providing their expertise to help shape national debates on science policy and education.

Baldwin wordle

So, we felt that it was time to bring the group together and celebrate the long careers of Tom and Miriam by holding a symposium to highlight research of former students, Tom’s faculty hires, collaborators and colleagues as a way to emphasize the influence of their training and friendship. Former students and faculty from each institution where Tom and Miriam have worked represented several generations of trainee groups. We were each finally able to meet former students whose dissertations we’d read, to reconnect with students who were in the lab when we were in the lab but with whom we had lost touch over the years, and to hear the stories of the other generations of trainees, both older and younger.

It was striking to see where the former students found their own positions around the US – Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, Maryland, North Dakota, Illinois, Texas, California, Arizona, Virginia, and others – in research I universities, smaller academic institutions, large pharmaceutical companies, biotech start-ups, IT fields, computer programming, and patent law. The group is an excellent example of the variety of careers open to well-trained scientists.

The symposium was held on the campus of UC Riverside, and we composed a Program of 17 short talks to highlight research projects of students, collaborators, and colleagues that included the primary themes of Tom’s and Miriam’s own work – enzyme mechanisms, gene expression and regulation, protein folding and assembly, and science education.

There were many examples of “Things I learned from Tom and Miriam”* that former students have carried with them into their own careers, coupled with “Baldwinisms”* that many Texans and a few outsiders would appreciate. (As you might expect for Texas colloquialisms, many phrases are not kid-friendly and so are not printed here.)

*”Baldwinisms” and other “Things I learned from Tom and Miriam”:

  1. “Hello, Professor” – surprising how inclusive this feels to new junior faculty.
  2. Sh*t happens. You can let it drag you down, or you can deal with it, learn from it, and keep moving forward.
  3. We don’t have to be giants in the field, but we can help others to see a little farther.
  4. Write your grant, professor.
  5. Have high standards and high expectations in yourself and in others.
  6. You should never use equations you don’t understand.
  7. The only guarantee in funding is that if you don’t submit a grant, it’s guaranteed to NOT get funded.
  8. You don’t get much biological activity out of a rock (refers to the need for proteins to be flexible to catalyze reactions).
  9. Congratulations on your grant. Now, start working on your renewal.

It is clear that Tom and Miriam have instilled their passion for science and education into their trainees. Many of the former students talked about their own graduate and undergraduate students in their research projects, challenges at their institutions for educating students, and how Tom and Miriam taught them to approach problems and find solutions. The “ripple in the pond” started by Tom and Miriam has had profound effects at universities throughout the US and abroad.

As Tom reminded us again, we are in the people business, after all, and it is an awesome responsibility. If we are not here to educate the next generation of scientists; if we are not here to help produce a scientifically literate society; if we are not engaged in helping set policies that positively affect all of us in science, then we should reassess why we are here.

Thanks, Professors.

Tom Baldwin and Miriam Ziegler

Tom Baldwin and Miriam Ziegler