Stearns received his BS in genetics at Cornell University in 1984 and his PhD in biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1988, working with David Botstein. As a postdoctoral fellow he worked with Marc Kirschner at the…
Stearns received his BS in genetics at Cornell University in 1984 and his PhD in biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1988, working with David Botstein. As a postdoctoral fellow he worked with Marc Kirschner at the University of California, San Francisco. Since joining Stanford University as a faculty member in 1993, Stearns has received awards for his dedication as a researcher and educator, including a Searle Scholars Fellowship, a Terman Fellowship, the Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and the School of Medicine Award for Graduate Teaching. In addition to his work at Stanford, Stearns serves as an advisor to the government policymakers on issues of science and technology as they relate to national defense. In 2002, Stearns was selected as Stanford’s first HHMI Professor. He was one of 20 professors from 19 universities nationwide selected in the first year of the HHMI professorship program. At the time of his appointment, Stearns noted, “Premier research institutions in this country don't make full use of their potential for training undergraduates to be practicing scientists. This is partly because of a lack of resources to support teaching by talented faculty and partly because the teaching mission tends to focus on the large numbers of pre-med students.” Stearns wanted to change this at Stanford, and has used the grant from HHMI to create a “pre-grad” program to recruit and train undergraduates interested in becoming scientific researchers. He has developed a number of new courses in Stanford’s Biology Department to train students to become the next generation of leaders in biological research. Most recently Stearns and colleagues have taken on the task of reinventing the Biology core lab course, taken by several hundred students every year. He has also been invited to organize and teach courses at venues around the world, from New York to Chile, South Africa, Ghana and Tanzania. Stearns is driven to combine his interests in research and teaching by the philosophy he inherited from his own teachers and mentors. "The idea that research and teaching are separate endeavors is artificial,” he says. “The experience of teaching helps you to do better science."