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David Ojcius on Lifelong Learning as a Researcher

David Ojcius of SF, California, is a professor and researcher with a wealth of experience. In 1979, David Ojcius graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and continued his education there to earn his Ph.D. in Biophysics. He then completed two postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard and Rockefeller University. Taking his skills to France, David Ojcius […]

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David Ojcius
David Ojcius

David Ojcius of SF, California, is a professor and researcher with a wealth of experience.

In 1979, David Ojcius graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and continued his education there to earn his Ph.D. in Biophysics. He then completed two postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard and Rockefeller University.

Taking his skills to France, David Ojcius began his career at the Pasteur Institute, which had received Nobel Prizes in areas related to molecular biology and infections. He worked as a researcher and studied interactions between human pathogens and host immune systems.

After 13 years in France, David Ojcius moved back to the U.S. with his wife and children. He took a job at the University of California, Merced, opening up a new campus as founding faculty member. He joined the Dugoni School at the University of the Pacific in SF in 2015, becoming the chair of the department responsible for delivering most of the science courses in the dental school, including Biochemistry, Physiology and Microbiology.

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

The industry I’m in is actually two in one: teaching and research. I love teaching and interacting with students. In many ways I learn as I teach them. I love their enthusiasm and their optimism. The thing about research is you are a student for life. You constantly have to learn new skills. It requires you to be a lifelong learner, which is something I enjoy.

What keeps you motivated?

In teaching, there is immediate gratification in knowing that students are learning. Especially teaching in a professional school where students are motivated in a different way. Before, I had never worked in such a setting when I was working in an academic environment with undergraduates. But in a professional school, students know what they want by the time they go to medical school . Seeing their attentive behavior and how eager they are to learn what will be their future trade, it keeps all teachers motivated.

How do you motivate others?

When it comes to research, it comes down to having regular discussions, like our Journal Clubs where we focus on specific published papers and “Chalk Talks” where we discuss collaborating on new project ideas. If colleagues and students do not attend these meetings, it’s easy for them to start to lose interest. Encouraging students to get involved in discussing other people’s projects and ideas can help motivate them, I have found.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

I go to Taiwan twice a year as a visiting professor to research in the laboratory of a successful businessman. This gentleman has founded and managed companies in both Taiwan and the U.S. and written books on personal well-being that are bestsellers in Taiwan. He does all of this work while also managing to exercise and meditate on a regular basis. He is an exemplary human being and one of the kindest people I know. 

How do you maintain a solid work-life balance?

I always make time for breaks and I try to enjoy myself while I exercise. Instead of going to the nearest BART station, the public transportation near me, I like to walk at least half an hour up a hill and then reach a station that’s down in front of the bay where I can sit down at a coffee shop before taking the subway home. Often, I will take students or peers with me. At home, on the weekends, I like to hike or ride a bicycle and listen to music. I also love spending time with my wife and children.

What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?

Equanimity. Many have said they have never seen me angry or losing my temper and I think people respond to that.

What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?

Learning how to apply for research funding in the U.S. is very difficult, especially for a professional from another country.

Another problem I have had is an issue with learning Chinese. Even though I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and had no problems adapting to English and French and other languages, trying to learn Chinese has been a big frustration. I go to Taiwan twice a year and I feel like the “Ugly American” because everyone has to speak in English to me. I have been trying, but I worry I have a mental block on it. I’m not giving up, though.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

Simply raising a family has been my biggest accomplishment. My children have different interests than me. My oldest daughter is going into health profession and is still deciding on her key area of interest in that. My youngest daughter is a computer scientist.

Where do you see you and your company in five years?

I like writing but I want to change my focus and start writing books. Also, because of the success we have been having with our research in Taiwan on using natural products to improve oral healthcare, that is a writing project I would like to start working on pretty soon.

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