Student Spotlight November 2011
Dr. William Dean, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Damien Wilburn graduated summa cum laude from UofL in 2009 with a double major in Biology (genetics concentration) and Math (statistics concentration). Currently, Damien is a PhD candidate in the Biochemistry & Molecular Biology program where he fuses his passion for math and biology studying salamander peptide hormones.
Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):
I study the evolution and regulation of courtship pheromones in salamanders. I’ve always been fascinated by the application of molecular techniques to larger biological phenomena, so studying how molecules affect mating behavior is perfect. I started the research when I joined Dr. Feldhoff’s lab after my sophomore year as part of the UofL SROP program, and it has managed to hold my interest into graduate school.
Awards, honors, publications:
In 2009, my senior thesis was awarded the best for that year (paper now in review). I also completed statistics research in the math department that was published in two pharmacology casebooks. My research is currently supported by a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.
Long term goals/ aspirations:
I’d like to stay in academia as a professor at a research-oriented university to train future graduate students and to teach classes that I’m particularly passionate about, such as biostatistics.
How would you describe your area of study/ specific research to your grandmother?
I’ve actually had to do this, more than once in fact! Everyone knows that humans and other animals have pheromones – not just sex pheromones that attract potential mates, but any chemical signal that provides information. However, there are very few examples of known pheromones in vertebrates, so we study how salamanders use pheromones as a potential model of how other animals likely use chemicals to communicate.
What made you go into this field of study?
I’ve always loved math, so I always assumed I’d major either in math or in engineering. But, I had a really great biology teacher in high school that got me interested in lab work and potential research. That was when I decided to double major and the rest has stemmed from that.
What was your favorite part of the graduate school experience?
I love the sense of camaraderie that most graduate students share. Only other grad students really understand the woes of too many responsibilities, the pressure of an adviser breathing down your neck, or the demands of your committee. But they’re also always there to celebrate a paper getting published, receiving a grant, or someone defending their thesis. It’s a lot of fun.
A talent you have always wanted: I'd love to be able to sing.
Favorite book: Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams
Favorite quote: "The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair." - Douglas Adams
Role Model: Doctor Who.
Pet Peeve: Apple users with superiority complexes.
If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? Probably teaching high school math and science.