Embarking on the graduate school journey can be a challenging experience, but it helps if you understand the major players involved in that experience. This new series, "Link to Leadership," features Q&As with UAB's Graduate School leaders and an opportunity for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to get to know these leaders on a deeper level.

david schneider 2Q: Why did you accept this leadership position within the Graduate School?

A: "As a researcher and mentor, there are two products of my career: scientific discoveries and the young scientists whose careers I have influenced during their training. I am very passionate about both of these important roles. As a leader in the Graduate School, I am in a position to help students develop their careers and become aggressive, competitive, but happy professionals."

Q: How long have you been in this role? What are your specific responsibilities?

A: "I accepted the Associate Dean for Graduate Biomedical Sciences position in January 2016. My job is to oversee the Graduate Biomedical Sciences PhD program. I am responsible for oversight of the curriculum, recruitment, retention and student progress tracking. I am fortunate to work with a team of five excellent staff. Additionally, there are 17 passionate theme directors who oversee individual theme curriculum requirements and provide advice to theme students. I work with the theme directors closely in setting future goals for the program. Another part of this role is to serve as an adviser to Dean McMahon. She stays in close contact with all of the Associate Deans and uses our collective experience to help the broader mission of the graduate school."

Q: When not serving as an associate dean, what are you doing? How much time is devoted to each area?

A: "I have found my way into three unique 'jobs.'

I am a research scientist, running a lab that investigates fundamental processes that govern cell growth and proliferation. My lab currently hosts four PhD students, one undergraduate, one high school student and two staff scientists. Additionally, I co-mentor two other students affiliated primarily with other labs. I have always enjoyed the process of discovery and we continue to move the fields understanding of how cells orchestrate ribosome assembly. This work had both fundamental value and potential clinical application in cancer cell biology.

I am Associate Dean and director of GBS. I am passionate about graduate education and thrilled to have a platform for positive impact. Right now my main focus is on unifying some of the more diverse requirements/regulations of the program in an effort to increase rigor in our training and minimize confusion among our constituents. I am also working hard to modernize the curriculum of the program to better suit the early development of students entering the program. This effort is a collaboration with faculty and students in the program, and exciting innovations are coming.

I am the vice chair of the Biochemistry Department. I work with the chair, Dr. David Bedwell, to support the ongoing development of the department and the faculty within the department. The duties associated with this role are diverse, but generally, I serve as an adviser to the chair and I lead smaller committees of faculty to accomplish tasks as needed. My expertise in grant-writing and reviewing has been useful in helping my colleagues in the department.”

Q: How much time do I devote to each?

A: "For the students I will leave this with a vague answer/advice: To maintain a level of success in anything, it takes work and lots of time. The more areas of success you pursue, the more time you will invest. If your roles matter to you, it is time well spent."

Q: What drew you to that particular field of study?

A: "Curiosity. I generally like the field of gene expression. The diversity of life that we see around us is a product of a series of molecular/biochemical 'decisions' that are made in all cells. These decisions are gene regulatory events. My research career has focused on expression of the ribosome. The ribosome is responsible for building cellular proteins and is therefore a crucial player in cell biology. Given its central role, cells devote robust regulatory mechanisms to controlling ribosome expression. Thus, this is a natural research area for someone with my interests."

Q: If you were talking with a group of incoming UAB students, what would you most want them to know about you and your hopes for their experience at the School?

A: "I hope they will realize (immediately) that we are all part of the same team. Faculty, staff and students should all be pulling in the same direction toward the same goals: Make great discoveries and provide exceptional training and career development opportunities. Graduate education is frequently viewed as adversarial between students and mentors. This should not be the case. We all have a vested interest in the success of our peers and colleagues. This rosy picture should not imply that PhD education will be easy. On the contrary, effective development into an aggressive, high-performing researcher requires that we are continually challenged and pushed harder. That is what doctoral education should do for each student."

Q: Can you talk about your own approach to teaching and how it has or has not informed your work in your current Graduate School leadership position?

A: "For the past 11 years at UAB I have only taught at the graduate and professional level. I maintain a pretty large course load, including core classes, journal clubs, writing courses and advanced courses. However, in all of these roles I try to be practical and respectful. What does that mean? I do not create unnecessary hoops through which students in my courses must jump. I find these (silly) rules to be cumbersome for me as a leader and for the students. Graduate level courses should be 'grown up.' The students are all grown-ups. The courses should not be regurgitation of approaches or topics presented at the undergraduate level. As a corollary, the students should be given professional respect. It is true, that there is a gap in our current ranks, but a mutually respectful relationship is more supportive to learning than artificial hierarchies based on rank, degree, etc."

Q: What influences have shaped you?

A: "That is a hard one. I am a relatively introspective person, so I could probably give many different moments of impact that have driven my development in different areas. I’ll give a general comment and a specific example.

In general, I was raised in a Christian family that emphasized the value of hard work and respect. I was raised to expect excellence from myself but not to pat myself on the back whenever some measure of success is achieved. Hopefully I have held true to these traits over time.

As a student, I did not think I had the inherent creativity required to run a top tier research lab. I decided that I was better suited to be a project leader within industry (where you still have a boss driving the overall direction of the work). After graduation, but before becoming a postdoc, I told my mentor that I did not feel equipped to drive a research lab for years. He responded with two words: 'Who is?' That conversation changed my career trajectory. He told me that I have what it takes, but more importantly, he told me that even super successful people (like him) doubt themselves and fear failure. That latter point was, and is, hugely important to me.”

Q: What do you like to do for fun?

A: "I love relaxing at the neighborhood pool with my boys and my wife. I love beach trips! I love long bike rides with my two boys. I love hiking (we can access a great trailhead from our neighborhood, so we hike every weekend with decent weather). I love baseball: currently by watching baseball, previously by playing. Sleeping! –when I find the time."

Q: Tell us about your family.

A: "My beautiful wife, whom I met in high school, and I have been married for 20 years (this summer). We have two boys, Lucas and Zachary, 12 and 10 respectively. We have several pets (cat, bird and fish, at present). I am not a pet lover, but they are … They clearly won."