Over the course of the school year, we will get to know some of the students and staff at Lake Forest College. Meet Shubhik K. DebBurman, professor of biology and Chair of the Neuroscience Program.
How long have you been at Lake Forest College? How did you end up there?
I am starting my 13th year at the college. My wife and I are both PhDs and, in 2001, we engaged in a national search for jobs that would establish both our careers. Big big cities held the most promise, and as both of us had done our graduate studies in Chicago, this city we loved was particularly appealing. In particular, I was looking for a nationally reputed liberal arts college that attracted highly motivated students and faculty from diverse backgrounds and from all over the world, where faculty were well regarded as exceptional teachers and reputed scholars, and where undergraduate teaching and learning was clearly the heart and the soul of institutional existence. Lake Forest College fit this bill perfectly.
What is your academic area of focus and what makes it interesting?
I am a molecular neuroscientist, which means that I am a biologist that studies how genes and proteins control the intimate relationship between brain, mind, and behavior. As a research scholar, I have focused on understanding neurological diseases caused by misfolding of key brain proteins. Specifically, I study why Parkinson's disease happens and how we can curb the molecular roots of its pathology. I am deeply passionate about the undergraduate liberal arts. During my own college days, I was equally drawn to the natural and social sciences and the humanities. Neuroscience was a natural fit for me because of its interdisciplinary quest to understand how our brain controls our language, thought, perceptions, and emotions. Our brain is key to our personality and to our ability to express ourselves as artists, scientists, politicians, educators, or so professional endeavors. Neuroscience seeks to answer some of the most fundamental questions in life- including the basis of our consciousness. I believe that understanding how our brain works may help us to not only fight devastating diseases, but help illuminate solutions to many complex social and philosophical conflicts about when life begins or ends, memory reliability, free will and genetic modification. What an exciting area for any college undergraduate to want to explore and discover something about his/her own humanity.
What do you like best about working at Lake Forest College?
I am incredibly lucky to love my work as much as I do. On most days, it is as good as play. I derive this level of joy because I am at this college. The level of faculty collegiality and our mutual respect for each other's talents and our ability and desire to work from different perspectives to find common ground cannot be taken for granted and it makes the college a superior environment within which to achieve professional success and maximize creative heights. The icing on the cake is that our students are an absolute pleasure to teach and mentor. They push me to excel just as hard as I push them to achieve. Because of the students, I continue to grow as a teacher and scholar every year and find new goals to conquer. My biggest source of pride perhaps is that every student that I have mentored in my research lab that has applied for PhD or MD programs was accepted for such programs. When students succeed in their academic dreams, I do as well, because their success is built on tremendous work ethic, motivation, and entrepreneurship.
What is your favorite Lake Forest College experience or memory?
An impossible question! While I can recall the big standout macro-events, what's far more important are the micro ones: Every time a science student presents scholarly work at regional and national conferences and comes back with an award. Each time a past student emails with pride about completing their graduate degree or publishing a paper. The constant feedback my colleagues at top research institutions provide about how our students regularly stand out. The eureka moments when a student in my research lab makes an unexpected discovery that changes our lab's direction. The numerous occasions in my office when bulbs light up in a student's brain, when he/she synthesizes a novel insight or solves a particularly perplexing problem.
Where is your favorite place on Lake Forest College's campus?
It’s obvious to any visitor that we have a beautiful campus with amazing architecture gorgeously set among natural ravines. No wonder it calms my mind every day to work within this beautiful landscape. Ultimately, however, I am a science nerd. Hands-down, my favorite spot is the second floor of the Johnson Dixon Science Center at the crossroads of four faculty research labs. At this spot, I am surrounded in all directions with superb evidence of faculty-student collaborations: students working in the labs, faculty holding appointments with students in their offices, award winning posters that adorn the walls, and strings of publications by students/faculty in top journals. Just one deep daily breath here rejuvenates any thought of momentary tiredness. Come check it out for yourself!
What advice would you give someone who is considering Lake Forest College to continue their education?
Choosing college is about what best fits your personality and personal goals. Hopefully, you have first weighed the important differences between a large university and a small college and the latter appeals to you because of the quality of intellectual engagement that stems from small class size, an astonishing level of access to faculty, and a deliberate focus on personalized academic and career advising. Secondly, as you narrow down your choices among excellent small colleges, you desire regular access to a thriving cosmopolitan world-class city both to enhance your classroom learning and for social recreation and you want to be part of a particularly diverse community with students and faculty from all over the country and the world. By this criteria alone, Lake Forest College already ought to be in your short list. After this point, it’s all about visiting campus, using your five senses to get that gut feeling.