Dr. Andrew Hasley, one of the Biotechnology Program’s newest hires, is evidence of just how much variation there is in the biotech field. His path was, in his own words, “both pretty darn traditional in some ways and very not in others.”
He initially entered his undergraduate program at a small private liberal arts college wanting to go on to veterinary school. In high school, he had done several internships in veterinary offices, and took agricultural biology classes instead of APs because “they looked more fun.” But when he got further into his classes, he was recruited out of a cellular molecular biology class by a professor who was interested in having him come work in her lab. “When I started college, I knew what grad school was as an amorphous concept,” he said, “But I didn’t know it was, like, a career path.”
Though it started as a job, Dr. Hasley started to like research more and more the further he got into it, but he still wanted to go to veterinary school. For a while, he wanted to combine his newfound interest in research with his desire to be a veterinarian, but he decided to change course after receiving pushback from the people he’d been talking to about it. “I’m legally blind and have limited central vision, so they had some understandable trepidation,” he said, “But I did an internship and everything!” Add that to the fact that he was growing increasingly excited by research and the potential it had to answer questions and solve problems, and he decided to pivot to graduate school.
“By then I had really gotten into the puzzle solving of doing research, which is why I wanted to be a vet in the first place,” he said. He had been hoping to tackle the puzzle solving aspect of diagnosing and helping animals, but instead he opted to do a PhD in genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And he chose genetics because he viewed it as the best toolkit to apply to other problems and other disciplines. While completing his degree, he got to dabble in everything from population genetics to ecology to doing early development work in zebrafish. “In some ways, it was really cool,” he said, “but it’s not a quick way to finish.”
As he worked his way through his degree and a research postdoctoral position, he started helping with accessibility workshops, specifically focusing on the concept of universal design for learning (UDL). “It basically just says ‘Don’t treat it as an accessibility issue. Just make stuff that works for everybody,’” he said. When he moved to Minnesota for his wife’s job, he had already been working with an organization called BioQuest, and a partner organization QUBES for a few years, and they offered him a job. “I was teaching teachers,” he said, “My focus was helping faculty implement the universal design for learning into their biology classrooms.”
“It was cool. It was nice to feel validated, like that work was valuable to others,” he said. But when he heard about the NC State job posting through the grapevine, he decided to apply. “It was exciting to me because the program offers you the chance to actually design your own class,” he said. Like many of the other instructors in the program, Dr. Hasley likes that the program allows you to both teach and do research. “I want to do research,” he said, “but I want to do it with people. I want to help students learn some skills or even just how to think like a researcher.”
And he’ll get to do that this summer, as a mentor in the BIT SURE program. Though he doesn’t yet have a specific research question, he wants to continue pivoting from his initial early development research into environmental DNA, or eDNA. “If you told me ten years ago that we’d be able to strain DNA from river water and that it’d be usable, I would’ve said ‘no way,’” he explained. But now that he’s able to utilize his genetics toolbox in a different way, he’s excited to move in this new direction. “I’d like to sit at this intersection of molecular biology and ecology,” he said, “I can speak both languages.” Why not just ask the environment if there’s a new invasive species or if another species has gone extinct?
Outside of work and research, he’s recently started playing the violin once again, after graduate school “made it fall off my radar.” And of course, as a current resident of Minnesota, he loves hockey. “I’m a die hard hockey fan,” he said, “It’s really easy up here, but it’ll be a little harder down there.” When he and his wife move to North Carolina, they’ll be moving from a town with a small university that still has a D1 hockey team to… the South.
And even though it won’t be a direct part of his job, he wants to keep up with his accessibility and inclusion work in a volunteer capacity. “I’ve felt like I can talk [about my advocacy work] pretty freely with my colleagues,” he said. He’s also excited to be able to “put my money where my mouth is” by implementing the universal design for learning in his own teaching methods. “This is embarrassing,” he said, laughing a little, “But I actually forgot to post my slides for my lecture the other day, which is something I’ve been telling other people to do for years.” Which only goes to show that you’re never done with the process of continually improving your teaching methods to be as accessible as possible.
His advice to undergraduate students? “Focus on trying to find what you’re interested in, but don’t fear change.” There’s definitely some privilege associated with being able to switch programs of study, especially later in the degree, but be honest with yourself when something just isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to be flexible and go where your interests take you.