Manuel "Manny" Ares always felt he learned more in the lab than in the classroom. That's why he wants to expose more students to a real research environment.
"If people who have not thought of themselves as researchers can be part of a research team, they end up seeing themselves as scientists," says Ares, professor and chair of molecular, cell and developmental biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Coupled with that is his conviction that the best researchers also make the best teachers. So Ares' vision is to nurture not just future scientists, but future teachers as well.
"Research is the act of teaching ourselves, an act that is very similar to teaching others," he says. "As all researchers are teachers of themselves, it follows that the best researchers ought to make the best teachers."
But "too often in academia there is unnecessary competition between teaching and research," he adds. "Those trained and well-versed in research techniques often have little incentive to participate in teaching."
As an HHMI Professor, Ares will design new courses for undergraduates that help students to begin thinking of themselves as teacher-scientists. The undergraduate research group "will act as an interdisciplinary research team in which both learning and teaching take place," he says.
He also will introduce students to the skills involved in using computers and robotics to look at gene expression. "Normally, undergraduates don't get experience in this until after they graduate," he says.
Students will work in his lab, which focuses on the mechanisms and regulation of genetic splicing. Splicing is required to remove intron sequences from pre-mRNA and create coding sequences for translation.
"We want to know how information that's in genes gets retrieved by the cell," he says. "It's a mysterious process. The cell needs to figure out: How do I interpret my genes? It's a big part of the puzzle of the genome."
He uses yeast for these studies "because it offers simple, powerful genetic approaches and has a splicing machinery similar to that in mammalian cells," he says. "In addition, the yeast genome is completely sequenced, the location of nearly every intron is known, and genes for most splicing factors have been identified. This provides unique advantages for the study of splicing."