MCLA

Captivating Coursework

10/17/2012

Whether they take one of his classes to fulfill a requirement or because they want a career in science, Dr. Justin Golub wants MCLA students to know that biology is fun. It's the most important thing he hopes they learn from him.

"I enjoy seeing students when they finally figure out how all the pieces fit together," he said.

A recent graduate from Clark University in Worcester, Mass., where he earned his Ph.D. in biology, Golub is the newest faculty member to join MCLA's biology department. 

His research focuses on embryonic learning in threespine stickleback fish: he examines how these fish can learn predator sensory cues in the egg, and how they use that learned information after they hatch. What's more, stickleback fish are a model for studying evolution, Golub said.

"They are ancestrally a marine fish, but have migrated into freshwater, where they become isolated, and quickly adapt to local conditions," he explained. "Because lake conditions vary (lake depth, shape, nutrients, food and predators), we see different behavior and morphologies expressed with the different conditions.

"The migration into freshwater has happened many times, which has given us a radiation, or diverse range of behavior and morphologies," he continued. "The fish is also still present in the ocean and the morphology has not changed, making the oceanic fish a living representation of the ancestor, and allowing us to easily compare the ancestor and decedent in the lab and the wild."

Growing up in Great Neck, N.Y., Golub was intrigued by animal behavior since his early childhood. He is intrigued by how animals perceive risk and respond to that risk, particularly if they use learned cues to identify it.

Also fascinated by genetics, Golub plans to add that field of study to future classes he one will teach at MCLA. Along with scientists from UMASS-Amherst, he's developing a project that explores genetic traits to see how they co-evolve with different behaviors, such as wings and flight in birds.

According to Golub, the study of biology is becoming much more interdisciplinary.

"Whether it's working with chemists to identify biologically synthesized compounds, computer scientists to model biological interactions, or engineers to use natural phenomena to design the next generation of technology, the fields of science are no longer isolated and rely on collaborative interactions," he said.

Biotechnology remains an up and coming field, particularly as the use of new and rapidly improving technology can lead to new perspectives and approaches to old questions, Golub said.

"This is how new pharmaceuticals are discovered and medical advancements are made.  Students with a strong background in computers and technology and an interest in biology will approach this in a different way than classically trained biologists with an interest in computers," he explained.

This semester, Golub is teaching "Introductory Biology" and "Developmental Biology." He also plans a course in "Biological Techniques," which will expose students to a wide range of research and data collection techniques - such as field collection and observation - and bench skills like cell culturing and genetic analysis. 

"The underlying goal is to teach good scientific and research skills, but to also expose students to research methods that they might need to be competitive in the job market," he said.