Faculty Spotlight: Joseph Jez, Biology Chair

Joseph Jez began his work with the Biology Department ten years ago as an assistant professor. He is now Professor of Biology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and as of July 1, 2018 the Biology Department Chair. We sat down to talk about the changes he’s witnessed over the last decade as well as what he would like to see in the future.

When asked how the department has changed in the last ten years, he stated that it has grown in the number of faculty, research labs, courses and students. Science itself has changed dramatically in the last decade. Though researchers are still working on the same questions that interest them, the types of science and scope have changed. Ten years ago “big data” was still an idea, but now we are actually doing it with genome sequencing, computational biology and other technology-driven scientific methods, for example the recently constructed Hengen Lab, which uses a network that has the capacity to collect and move data over 40 times faster than in traditional lab setups.

Science and the methods used to practice science have changed in ways that we didn’t completely predict. Exponential growth in technology allows us to take things further and technology is opening up in different directions. However, it may take some time for everyone to adopt these new methods and adapt the technology to address the questions they are trying to answer in their labs. Assembling a massive amount of information is the hard part, i.e. how do we tackle a collection of that size and use it to answer the questions we have and how do we determine what the next set of questions will be?

Science is also becoming more cross-disciplinary. Boundaries between the study of biology, anthropology, physics, chemistry, psychology and other disciplines are breaking down and collaborations continue to become more important. Dr. Jez hopes to find ways to encourage Biology faculty to connect and collaborate across other departments within the university as well as partnering institutions.

Dr. Jez is a biology major advisor, Bio 200/500 mentor, and teaches undergraduate courses in biology (see course spotlight for details about the courses he teaches). When asked about goals for the department regarding biology students, Dr. Jez explained that in the past, Wash U focused more on recruiting students with the highest scores, but the university is beginning to look at things a little differently by trying to find ways to nurture students that have the same potential as those who score high on standardized tests, but don’t perform as well in traditional areas or in traditional ways. In particular, Arts & Sciences is looking at the STEM curriculum for introductory level courses to identify areas where students need help to reach their full potential and coming up with different methods of reaching these students. In conjunction with finding innovative methods of teaching, the Biology Department is looking at ways to create more flexibility in how the major is accomplished, instead of having one path to a bio degree. Another goal of Dr. Jez is to create more teaching lab space in the future, as well as updating current spaces. For more information about Joe Jez and his research, visit: http://pages.wustl.edu/jezlab.