Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Chris Geyer, Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at East Carolina UniversityPublished: Wednesday, August 23, 2017
1) When did you first become interested in science?
In all honesty, since I was a little kid, it was the only subject I was ever very good at!
2) Why did you pick The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and your program?
It was a pretty random event, actually – my wife Cathy was doing one of her veterinary student “externships,” which are required rotations outside of the vet school, and she chose to do one at the military dog training center at Lackland in San Antonio. She met Dr. Robin Leach at Dallas Fort Worth Airport after a flight they were on together got cancelled due to bad weather… Robin helped Cathy (who was a total stranger to her) get a hotel room, and then took her out to dinner. One of the things they ended up talking about at dinner was me, I guess, and Robin encouraged Cathy to have me apply for grad school.
3) Tell me more about your career path.
I graduated with a B.S. in biology from Virginia Tech, and went to work for a small biotech company in Blacksburg VA (where the vet school is located)… this was in part because I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life at the time, but really had more to do with the fact that I was a lazy student with a lousy GPA… Looking back, I have no idea why my boss hired me… maybe she saw some potential in me, or I reminded her of her son, or the rest of the applicant pool was worse than me? Whatever the reason, I started working there in 1996, and shortly thereafter met my wife Cathy, who was a vet student at the time. Those two women (my boss and my wife) helped me “grow up” and mature. When she graduated from vet school in 2000, we decided to move to San Antonio so that I could go to graduate school, and she got a position as an associate veterinarian.
4) Tell me about your current career, what do you do?
I am now an associate professor (just got tenure July 1) in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. My current lab group has 1 Master’s student, 2 PhD students, a research technician, and an undergraduate student. I teach in the medical histology course and co-direct a grantwriting course for graduate students, but mainly spend my time supervising the research in my lab, which is focused on understanding how spermatogonia in the mammalian testis develop in order to make gametes (sperm).
5) What is a day like in your job?
It’s completely variable, which is fun for me. Sometimes I travel, sometimes I teach, sometimes I work from home, I read and write while listening to music in my office, spend time working with students, review grants, go to meetings, etc, etc. It’s very flexible, and I largely make my own schedule. Which is great, with kids… my wife’s job is completely inflexible, so it’s nice to have that as part of my job.
6) How did the education you get at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepare you?
I had taken most of the classes already, so the coursework, outside of the anatomy course I took with Drs. Philo and Johnson, were things I’d already had. My mentor, Dr. John McCarrey, was and still is the biggest influence on my career. He taught me how to be a scientist – how to write and present, how to design experiments, how to critique others’ work, etc, etc. He also took me to meetings and introduced me to the field – it is because of that that I still work in reproductive biology.
7) What is the most challenging part of your work?
For me, it’s all the administrative paperwork.
8) What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Hands down, it’s the discovery. When a student has found something small that, for a brief moment in time, nobody who has ever lived knows, that’s pretty powerful. I love seeing their excitement.
9) What has been your proudest achievement?
Outside of personal stuff – as a kid, Eagle Scout. As an adult, I guess there have been a couple, and they were mostly things that surprised me… landing a faculty job, getting my first grant from the NIH, and then winning this award from the SSR – it means a lot when others validate what you’ve been doing, and let you know that it’s worthwhile
10) What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice?
I would say that if I can do this, anyone can! I was a very average student, both in high school and in college. I really only did well in courses I was interested in, which is why I didn’t do that well until I got to graduate school. The main things I tell students are to work hard, get to know people in your field of study, be willing to help out, and be passionate about what you do. Success in science is not measured solely by whether you get a tenure-track faculty job, and there are lots of other options that are just as rewarding and fulfilling. If you do end up in a tenure-track research job just remember that, in the end, our legacy and what we will be remembered for is what we discovered and what trainees we prepared to follow in our footsteps.
11) What do you like to do outside of work?
Hang out with wife and kids, go out on my boat, spend time outdoors, go to the gym with my wife
12) Growing up, what did you want to be?
13) Who has influenced you the most in life?
14) What is your favorite quote and why?
“If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be called research”… it was attributed to Einstein, but there’s some debate as to whether he actually said it or not. Either way, I still like it a lot – reminds us to keep our minds open and to not get too comfortable with how we think things work inside a cell, or inside the body. Because we could be wrong, which is totally ok as long as you’re honest about it.
15) If you were stranded on a deserted island, what one band or musician would help keep your sanity?
I think I’d get tired of any one band after a few hours and that would make me crazy. I would probably just prefer the sounds of the island.
16) What do you consider your favorite hobby?
Hunting and fishing
17) If you could have dinner with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
Right now, it would be Enrico Sertoli – I’m translating one of his manuscripts because it relates to one of our projects, and I’ve got a bunch of questions I’d like to ask him. In English, preferably!
18) If you won the lottery, what would you do?
I wouldn’t quit my job, but I would probably stop writing grants if I could afford to fund my own work… Honestly, I would buy a few toys and a bigger boat, pay for my kids’ college education, give to charity, and travel a bit more with my family… I would invest a bunch of it to avoid joining the majority group of lottery winners who are bankrupt within a few years!
19) If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
I am fortunate in that I do get to travel a good bit for work… for personal travel, I’d like to go to Alaska
20) If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?