Dr. Jonathan Garlick is a Professor of Oral Pathology at Tufts Dental School and teaches Science of the Human Experience for undergraduate first years. The Observer sat down with him to talk about his life and interests; everything from working as an artificial turkey inseminator to his favorite midnight snack to engaging in science.
What do you do?
I’m a stem cell scientist, a science educator, a pathologist, a dentist, and a rap and hip-hop artist. I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’m a son, and I’m a brother.
How did you start all of that?
I lived in Israel for a decade and I was an artificial turkey inseminator and I did that on a collective farm called a kibbutz. After inseminating turkeys, I studied geology, I studied dentistry, I became a pathologist, then I did my PhD. Working as a dentist specializing in cancer and seeing a lot of people getting very terrible diseases with unexplained reasons, I realized I wanted to try to figure out why people were getting these terrible diseases, so I went back and got a PhD in molecular biology and started my own research lab.
The next key transformative moment transformed me from a scientist in the lab to a scientist in society, and that is where I am right now. This happened when I was doing government-funded research using human embryonic stem cells. One day in 2010, I got a call from a Boston Globe reporter asking me what I thought about a decision made by a judge in D.C. that placed a complete ban on the use of stem cells in government-funded research. I said to the Globe reporter, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I was only thinking about the next experiment, the next paper, the next grant. I was not aware that there were ethical, moral, political, and legal issues that were impacting the very work I was doing in my lab. And in that moment I realized I had to change. I became aware that I needed to understand, through a personal lens, the value and impact of the research I was doing in terms of its ethical, political and moral consequences.
After that, I got a seed grant from the university to develop a new course, and the entire intent of that course is to help students engage in the science conversation in a way that was going to be personally meaningful and would help them understand that science issues that impact their lives are relevant, personal, and most importantly, accessible.
What’s your favorite thing about Tufts?
Its students. I have the most incredible sense of wonder about how Tufts students are so open-minded and so experiential and willing to explore and also willing to work together to support each other. I’m really blown away by that.
What’s your favorite midnight snack? Are you up at midnight?
I am just getting started at midnight. I weaned myself off of sleep years ago because there are just too many exciting things to think about. Right now my favorite midnight snack is my wife’s amazing homemade granola with milk. But what I’m really proud about is that I used to have a bowl of Cocoa Puffs at midnight and the fact that I weaned myself off them is a major accomplishment.
What’s an insecurity you’ve overcome?
I would say a fear of flying, which I overcame by realizing that I didn’t have a fear of flying, that I actually had a fear of crashing. I’m in awe of flying. When people get off the plane I think everybody should be ushered into a reception room and we should have an incredible buffet with food, music, dancing, just to celebrate. Not to celebrate that we’ve survived this, but to celebrate that we’ve just experienced this miracle.