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Prior Professor Spotlights

Dr. Doug Risser

Q1: Tell us a little bit about your research.

In his research, Dr. Risser studies filament cyanobacteria, which undergo oxygenic photosynthesis like plants. He studies nostoc punctiforme, which produce cells called hormogonia that allow for motility and heterocysts which fix nitrogen.  Primarily, he studies how hormogonia develop and how these filaments move. During my interview with Professor Risser, he told me about how nostoc punctiformer are used to colonize plants that they later form symbiosis with by providing the plants nitrogen, which enables the plant to colonize areas where they normally can’t grow. The big picture of this particular area of study is introducing cyanobacteria to different metabolic pathways to get them to produce thing, like ethanol. Another reason for this study is to be able to engineer a new symbiosis between corn and nostoc to replace the need for spaying nitrogen fertilizer.


Q2:  What made you want to become a Biologist/professor?

Having been interested in Biology from a young age, he knew that he wanted to pursue something in that field. Whether it was being a veterinarian, or working in the biotech industry, the underlying theme of what he wanted to explore was always Biology. In college, he was a Biology Major specializing in Zoology, and became specially interested in behavioral Biology. When he finished college, he got a job at a biotech company where he worked for two years. Eventually, he realized that he didn’t want to do the same thing everyday, but rather pursue something more intellectually stimulating, and he went to graduate college to get his Ph.D. After seeing what his advisor did with his career he realized that he wanted to become a Professor.


Q3:   What do you like about your job?

The ability to explore new things and dictate his own terms on where his research takes him is one of the things Professor Risser loves about his job. He often says that there aren’t too many jobs where one can come in everyday and learn something new. He also absolutely loves working with students and to be able to pass on the knowledge to another generation; giving them a hands-on opportunity to be able to help them learn new techniques and develop new ideas for themselves. In the classroom, it’s great to be able to interact with students and help them learn and advance their careers and help them get to places they want to go.


Q4: What do you like about teaching at Pacific?

The interaction with the students on this campus is what Professor Risser likes most about at teaching at Pacific. He says it is a lot of fun to get a chance to interact with students, help them develop their knowledge base, and watch them learn more about science.

Q5.  Do you have any advice for students in science majors?

Professor Risser stresses that it’s important for students to be open to pursue the career path that really inspires them and one that they like. He told me that, “You may come in as a freshman with one idea, don’t be afraid to leave as a senior with a totally different idea about what it is you want to pursue.” Professor Risser described how he himself started as a Zoology major and discovered that he really liked molecular biology and genetics, something he picked up on in graduate school. He believes that one of the things college helps with is to give students time to figure out what they like and what inspired them.

Written by Hamid Ahmed

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