Brian Piasecki stands for a photo on the sidewalk leading to Main Hall.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Brian Piasecki (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.


Brian Piasecki has always taken a hands-on approach to life.

From building and taking things apart as a child to more recent adventures in woodworking, the associate professor of biology at Lawrence University enjoys learning by doing. No wonder he loves his work in the science labs at Lawrence, partnering with students on research tied to defects in cellular structures that have been implicated in a range of human genetic disorders.

Last year he also joined Professor of Biology Bart De Stasio and 16 students for the latest Lawrence University Marine Program (LUMP) research trip, spending two weeks on the Caribbean island of Bonaire doing field research on marine life.

Whether your focus is ecology, microbiology, marine biology, or genetics, you can look forward to a depth of knowledge that comes from collaborations on co-designed research projects.

Piasecki, who joined the Lawrence faculty in 2011, holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas, a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

We caught up with him to talk about interests in and out of the classroom.

In the classroom

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

That I work at Lawrence because I like working with students. I know it sounds obvious, but it is important for me to let students know that I’m here for them. Being transparent about my purpose also helps break down some of the barriers that are inherent in situations where there are differential power dynamics, like the classroom.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

As much as I like being in the classroom, working one-on-one with students in the lab is what excites me the most. Development often comes by doing, and the lab offers a phenomenal place to learn about science and yourself. I also love microscopes and could happily spend hours a day photographing the microscopic world.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional, or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

The short answer is to Lawrence. Prior to coming to Lawrence, I had very little knowledge about the liberal arts. My entire educational path and training was at public institutions. However, I’ve always had broad interests and a propensity for thinking critically. At Lawrence, I like that I get to teach and do research that makes broad connections.

Out of the classroom

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?

Something with my hands. Although I’m relatively new to it, I love woodworking, so maybe a finishing carpenter? I think many of the characteristics that make for a good bench scientist are the ones that tradespeople or musicians possess. I’m not musical, so there you go.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

Our imaging center in the basement of Steitz Hall, particularly collecting images on our confocal microscope. It is definitely my happy place.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

Book: 10% Human: How Your Body's Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness, by Alanna Collen. The interplay between gut microbes and our mental and physical health fascinates me. Collen’s book is well organized and provides a nice overview on the subject.

Recording: For Emma Forever Ago, by Bon Iver, is a beautiful album.

Film: Donnie Darko is not just a great movie; it has an even better soundtrack.