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.
Judith Humphries’ work is always moving at a brisk pace. Don’t let the snail part fool you.
The associate professor of biology at Lawrence University spends much of her research studying the freshwater snail, Biomphalaria glabrata. Working with students, her lab studies a family of transcription factors in the snails, as well as the nervous system in the embryos, juveniles, and adults. The research aims to better understand how gene expression is regulated in immune responses in the snail—studied because it is the intermediate host to a tropical parasite that causes the debilitating disease schistosomiasis in humans.
Whether in ecology, microbiology, marine biology, or genetics, you can look forward to a depth of knowledge and understanding that comes with close collaborations with faculty and classmates.
Humphries’ teaching, meanwhile, ranges from courses on comparative physiology to immunology to neuroscience.
She has been part of the Lawrence biology faculty since 2007. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree and a Ph.D. from Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland.
We caught up with Humphries 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?
I know what it is like to struggle in class and feel like everyone else gets it except you. I was in the Sambistas (drumming ensemble) in the Conservatory for two terms a few years ago and everyone else seemed to absorb everything we were taught immediately, and I didn’t. I had to practice every week just to keep up, but it was worth it. I love Brazilian music and enjoy being in music ensembles.
Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?
There are a few research projects I am working on with students that I am particularly excited about. These are projects that a few years ago I would have considered too expensive to undertake without external funding, but as the cost of RNA/DNA sequencing has come down and with support from the Chandler Senior Experience funding, we are able to pursue these projects. We will be looking at gene expression in the snail, Biomphalaria glabrata, both in its “brain” and early developmental stages. I wouldn’t call it work, but I am a member of the Ghanaian dance and drumming ensemble, Kinkaviwo; our rehearsals and performances are incredibly energizing and make me really happy.
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?
I had the privilege of travelling to China twice as part of the Sustainable China program. It was amazing and I am grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of that program.
Out of the classroom
This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?
I think if I had known about forensic anthropology while in high school, I might have gone into that. I read a book called Dead Men Do Tell Tales about forensic anthropology that made me think I would like to be in that field. Or maybe pathology? I think I would enjoy working in a parasitology diagnostic lab.
Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?
To be honest, I spend most time on campus in my office, lab, or in a classroom in Steitz or Youngchild Halls. I like my office as I have a partial view of the river and often eagles fly by my window. I also enjoy being in my lab doing research with students. I helped out in SLUG a few Saturday mornings last summer; that was a great space to be on campus.
One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?
I read Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee a few years ago and loved it; it was fascinating. We share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees, and this book explores the similarities and differences between these species. While reading it, that was all I would talk about.
In general, my favorite movies are James Bond and Hitchcock, and if I had to name a favorite Hitchcock, I think it would be Vertigo. I love the movie and the soundtrack. A more recent movie I recommend is The Banshees of Inisherin—great script, soundtrack, and beautiful scenery. I also love hearing the Irish colloquialisms such as “feckin” throughout.