Richard Calderone, PhD: Make Success Your Own

Chair, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Director, Masters Degree Program in Biomedical Science Policy & Advocacy

“Teaching gives you new ideas for research; that’s an old adage but it’s true.”

At Georgetown University since 1974


An emphasis on teaching.

I came to Georgetown in 1974 and at that time, there were very few master’s programs here. We would train and teach PhD students, but the teaching part was small. That has since evolved considerably because while we’re still doing the research, we now have many master’s programs, including the Biomedical Science Policy & Advocacy program. This means our teaching responsibilities have dramatically increased. Now, do I like that? Yes, I really do. It’s a lot of work but I find the interaction with students to be the best part. I have this attitude that there’s no office hours, but just make sure that you’re around a lecture or come in, make an appointment and we’ll talk. Our program is on the smaller side, but in some ways that’s better because you can interact more with the students, help out, or just listen to their worries. Not all the students will take you up on that, and that’s fine. Teaching gives you new ideas for research; that’s an old adage but it’s true, it’s really true.

Opportunities to collaborate.

One of the best things about the job is you develop collaborations. That collaboration could be somewhere like the NIH, or it could be somewhere just as exciting. For instance, I have a partnership with a professor at the Pasteur Institute in Paris who also happens to be a close friend. I was the best man at his wedding and became godfather to his son, and each time I’m in Paris we work very hard…well sort of. That is something special you are able to do in this profession – collaborate.

“Take advantage of the system. That means doing everything you can do to help yourself. “

With great motivation comes great success.

Last year, there was a student who started looking for opportunities to get involved even before he started the program. He was trying to gain experience and he found something called the Wilson Center. The Wilson Center is a great place, so he started working there within the first couple weeks of the program as an intern. He worked there all year and has a job with them now. He really took it upon himself to try to find opportunity, and he’d come in and talk about it which was great. Now, I’m not saying that people who come in and sit back don’t find things, because they do as well, but the motivation needs to be great in order for students to succeed in these programs.

Immune pathways are like the flip of a switch.

We work with fungal pathogens, which are quite common in the environment, and we study why and how they cause disease. Before, research was all very descriptive, but now you can get down to a gene issue and show, “Oh, this gene is really what’s important.” So in my research, there are two different areas. The first is in pathogenesis. We study various factors and try to figure out ways to exploit these factors for new drug discovery and more. The second area is more recent and what we’re asking is how do human cells talk to the pathogens. There are really interesting studies about how that occurs, so we’re doing things like trying to determine what is on an epithelial cell that makes the pathogen bind and then what does it do after binding? What we work with lives in us in the GI tract and it’s in harmony. There is always a danger, however, that people would over-respond to something which is not harmful, so what human cells have done is they’ve determined a way to say “Ok, this is normal, not to worry” or “Something has changed, and now there’s possibility for disease” and that’s all immune pathways. We are trying to understand what causes the body’s switch to flip from the first response to the second.