Being faculty represents occupying a critical role in society: one who conducts and disseminates meaningful research, who instructs and mentors junior academics, and who serves as a societal resource of knowledge. The position of university professor should be attained not as a mere result of accomplishing significant work as an individual, but by engaging in the larger scientific and social community while functioning as a trusted symbol of and advocate for the pursuit of higher education. This may be accomplished through a number of potential mechanisms based on the type of university as well as one’s particular specialization, but generally encompasses the well-known research/teaching/service triad as applied to a balanced faculty philosophy.
There is heavy emphasis within the life sciences to focus on research and the inevitable grant/manuscript cycles intrinsic to the process, but truly great faculty transcend these professional rigors and provide compassionate, respectful contributions to their students, department, and greater community. The beneficiaries of such an outlook extend well beyond the walls of the laboratory. My personal philosophy is focused on leading by example and communicating with others as my peers, regardless of their background or experience. One of my best undergraduate mentors told me that we are all intelligent scientists in his lab, but that we were all just at different stages of our careers. As a result, we were equals. That insight was profound, and has changed the way I see others within academia and beyond.
The intense competition present within contemporary academia forces many young academics to overlook teaching and service, and this behavior is often awarded in certain settings. Each generation is granted the opportunity to build upon the successes and shortcomings of its predecessors. In academia, it will be critical to strike a meaningful balance between faculty responsibilities to redirect public perception away from the concept of the egotistical, absent-minded professor toward a valuable community resource. While I have always emphasized research as my primary specialty, I now recognize that teaching and mentorship are equally if not more important. There will always be brilliant scientists out there, but those serving as faculty members must be especially skilled in disseminating their knowledge in order to solve societal problems and assist in the cultivation of future generations of inquisitive minds.