May 29, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 17

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    Bernard Roizman, the Joseph Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Virology and Chairman of the Viral Oncology Laboratory

    By John Easton
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    Bernard Roizman listens to one of his student's questions in his Tuesday afternoon class, Viruses of Eukaryotic Cells.
    Widely considered the world's foremost expert on the herpes simplex virus, Bernard Roizman, the Joseph Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Virology and Chairman of the Viral Oncology Laboratory, was surprised to learn that he won a Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

    Roizman has won scads of research awards and has trained many of the leading virologists around the world–but those were all graduate students or post-doctoral fellows, advanced students well on their way to becoming research scientists.

    Roizman attributes the teaching skills he has developed to his research career and to a gradual accumulation of expository skills. To get respect and credit from scientific colleagues for important research, he said, you have to be able to explain your work clearly.

    The same skills apply to lecturing. "If you emphasize current science and current research, it will be interesting," he said. Developing a style and pace that can maintain that interest for an hour or more can be difficult, however. "With students, you have to watch how they react," he said. "Are they following you or falling asleep? If so, you make adjustments and try again."

    It also helps to have a captivating topic. "I have long been fascinated by viruses," he said, "because they are so small, with as few as five genes, yet they completely take over a cell with 50,000 genes."

    Roizman has spent his career trying to understand just how the herpes virus uses its 84 genes to hijack a human cell. This information could be used to prevent infections or to make therapeutic viruses, altered versions of nature's pests that might soon be used to treat diseases such as cancer.

    This spring, Roizman is teaching two courses, one for college and graduate students on virology and one, with colleague Beatrice Fineschi, lecturer in the College, on research methods.

    "This is a fun course for me," he said. The 12 students are working on 12 parallel but related segments of a research project, trying to identify the genes involved in the course of a viral infection. The course emphasizes methods, how to get reliable results from each component, then piece them together to complete the puzzle.

    His road to teaching is a long and twisted one. Born in Kishinev–then in Bessarabia, and now part of Moldova–Roizman moved with his parents to Italy when World War II displaced them.

    He briefly studied law, lost interest, and wound up in Philadelphia, where "the science bug somehow bit me." He completed his doctoral work and taught at Johns Hopkins University for nine years before coming to Chicago in 1965, where he has combined full-time viral research with lecturing for 38 years.

    He offers no particular advice to those interested in teaching. "There are no courses that can tell you how to teach," he said.

    "Just develop a style, do the best you can and learn from your mistakes. In time," he added, "you acquire competence."