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Listen: Microbiologist Amy Cheng Vollmer on Similarities Between Bacteria and Teenagers

Isaac H. Clothier Jr. Professor of Biology Amy Cheng Vollmer was recently a guest on Key Conversations, a podcast from the Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) Society that features dialogues with PBK Visiting Scholars.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Vollmer, whose research centers on how bacteria react to different types of stresses, touches on a variety of topics including the similarities between bacteria and teenagers; the importance of female mentorship in her career; the value of the College's Summer Scholars Program, which she directs; and the instructional power of failure. 

"I have the best job in the world," she says. "I teach a group of students who are so incredibly motivated and I have the privilege of sharing with them stories. Frankly, they could read the textbook on their own, but what I'm able to do is tell them stories about how these discoveries were made... and that's what really makes the lesson memorable. In a way, I think of myself as a tour guide through a journey of microbiology."

In addition to her role as a tour guide, Vollmer also explains her reputation as a provider of uncomfortable moments and the necessity of discomfort in the facilitation of growth.

"When living organisms grow, that growth is characterized by discomfort. If you are a student in my class, and you're growing, you're experiencing discomfort," she says.

"My job as a teacher and a mentor is to present students with circumstances where they are uncomfortable intellectually," Vollmer continues. "The reason I'm doing it is because I know they can [handle it]. I wouldn't be pushing them if I didn't think they could. Until they get pushed, they're not going to know."

Listen to the full episode of Key Conversations:

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