Alumni Spotlight: 13 Questions with Dr. Paul Langlais
1) Tell me about yourself.
I am 42 years old and I am married to Leah and we made Sophia, who is almost three years old. Watching a human start from scratch has been enlightening. I enjoy my family, golf, my friends, fishing, making music, and of course discovering new biology.
2) When did you realize you were passionate about science?
I graduated college in ’97 with no plan whatsoever regarding a career, with the one exception being that I knew I really enjoyed my developmental biology and cell biology classes. I didn’t even know what a Ph.D. was. Through a series of fortunate events, I wound up in the labs of Drs. Feng Liu and Lily Dong that fall. It didn’t take but four months as a research assistant to realize I can discover biology for a living. So, I took the plunge and committed to grad school in the fall of ’99.
3) Why did you pick The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and your program?
My dad, Dr. Robert Langlais, was faculty in the Department of Dental Diagnostic Science at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for 30+ years. When I was looking for a job out of college in the summer of ‘97, I was using his fax machine to send my “CV” to places like Sonora Quest Laboratories, because I thought maybe I could be in a “lab.” His assistant told me to go to Human Resources at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, whereupon I discovered all kinds of jobs in research. The internet had just come out, so at that time job applications were still paper and had to be filled out in pen. Out of the stack of applications on Dr. Liu’s desk, he chose mine and I am sitting here today, 20 years later, typing this article because of the one reason my application stood out: my handwriting. 18 months later I enrolled in the Biochemistry Ph.D. program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
4) What were some of the highlights during your time in graduate school? Did you win any awards or have there been any achievements you’ve been proud of?
The highlight was graduating. The Liu Lab was a gauntlet and I figured if I can get through that then I can do anything. I really enjoyed the Biochemistry program. It was highly organized and the scheduled committee meetings, qualifying exam, authorship requirements, thesis proposal and thesis defense were all keys to successful training. I appreciated professors like Drs. Martin Adamo, Susan Weintraub, Larry Mandarino and Larry Barnes, who always took the time out to help me. I am proud to have graduated from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and I am convinced that the level of training I achieved there is a main cause of why I’ve managed to barely cling on to a career in academics thus far.
5) Tell me more about your current job. What do you do?
I am an Associate Professor and a proteomics lab director at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology.
6) If you are still doing research- what kind of research are you working on currently? Why is it important? Why do you enjoy working on this topic?
I take a proteomics-driven approach to elucidating new signaling cascades responsible for regulated microtubule involvement in insulin signal transduction. Impaired insulin action is a key factor in the development of the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, so anything I can discover helps us figure out how the body works in the first place. We cannot fix it till we understand how it works. I really enjoy this topic because my lab is in the middle of discovering some really interesting new biology!
7) What are your career plans? How did the education you get at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepare you?
To stay employed. A career in grant-funded academics is brutal. My lab must keep the pedal to the metal when it comes to publishing our discoveries. I’m in the 3rd quarter of the 4 year of my first 5-year NIH R01 grant and I cannot see anything beyond getting our papers submitted and renewing this grant. We have made some really interesting headway and I would love nothing more than to continue discovering. The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio taught me what a NIH R01 grant is and that if I’m going to try and be a researcher then getting that R01 is a huge first step.
8) Would you recommend that students do postdocs after grad school? What are some skills/experiences that you’ve gained as a postdoc?
Absolutely. No brainer. As a post-doc GO SOMEWHERE THAT HAS A LOT OF RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE SO YOU CAN LEARN NEW TECHNOLOGY AND COLLABORATE! Go somewhere WHERE YOU WILL PUBLISH AND ESTABLISH YOUR OWN NICHE THAT YOU CAN USE AS A FOUNDATION TO LAUNCH YOUR INDEPENDENT CAREER. I cannot stress this enough. You want to be in an environment where you have resources available to pursue as many avenues as possible to answer your biological questions.
9) What is the most challenging part of your work?
By far, keeping up with metrics. As a first-time R01 recipient, my lab has me plus 1.5 other people (one of my assistants is half my lab, half the proteomics lab). That’s it. It is extremely difficult to produce multiple high-quality publications with such a small crew, so we grind non-stop. We are accountable to produce, and if we don’t, it is all over. That is by far the hardest aspect to cope with as an academic basic scientist responsible for an independent research program.
10) What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Discovery. We explore the unknown with the goal of helping people. When discoveries are made, it makes all the stress and failure disappear. Thanks to being proficient in proteomics, not only do I get use proteomics to discover aspects of insulin action, I also get to help collaborators discover in their respective fields. This allows me to help outside of my own research interests and contribute to understanding all kinds of disease states.
11) What has been your proudest achievement?
Sophia, my daughter.
12) What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice?
Get ready to be broke for the next 15 years. Publish. Help other people and get coauthorships in return. Learn a specialized technique. Get used to failing. Read read read. Go check out the article I just wrote about the 7 lessons I learned.