Familiar face returns to lead Department of Biochemistry
Dr. Phil Davis jokes that his arrival at Memorial University predates most of the buildings and plants on the St. John’s Campus. In fact, he says the big trees surrounding Peyton College were mere seedlings when he came to the university in 1968.
With the exception of two brief stints away, the newest head of the Department of Biochemistry has been here ever since – as an undergraduate student, technician, graduate student and finally a faculty member.
Originally from Badger, he first became department head in 2001. He is currently holding the post for an interim period while the unit begins the process of seeking a replacement for Martin Mulligan, who just finished seven years at the helm.
“The department certainly gone through changes over the years,” says Dr. Davis. “When I first came here as a student we had four faculty and we had four majors. This past year we probably graduated over 70 students, and we have 18 faculty. So we’ve grown a lot but we’ve also changed in other ways.
“The whole emphasis of where the field of biochemistry is going is also changing. Because of molecular biology we’ve gotten into genomics and proteomics and the technology is getting so sophisticated. That’s a revolution, but one that’s happened naturally.”
Another thing he’s seen changing is the ease in which new faculty can apply for funding.
“It’s getting tougher,” he said. “Young faculty are having a much tougher time getting it. One of my roles as head is to do anything that I can do to make that process easier for them, to get them started. We have to nurture them and make sure they get every opportunity they can to get their feet under them and get started. It’s a really tough, competitive world out there now.”
Another priority of Dr. Davis while he keeps the head’s chair warm is to see through the recommendations of a recent academic program review.
“One of the suggestions was for us to revamp our curriculum,” he said. “We’ve done some of that on the biochemistry side of the department but I hope to move it forward on the nutrition end. If I can put our undergrad programs on track before the new head arrives, that will allow them to focus on the research side of things. If I can do that and help new faculty get off on the right foot over the next two years, I’ll have earned my keep.”
Dr. Davis’ own research has moved away from basic science toward applied science in recent years. He’s been involved with the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Industry Technologies as a board member and has done research with a variety of local companies in the seafood and sealing industries. Through it all his favourite part of being at Memorial is his interactions with students, through his teaching and his work as a high school liaison with the Academic Advising Centre.
“Very few people can says they found their spot,” says Dr. Davis. “My brother and I arrived at Memorial University at the same time. I was 16, and he was 15. I was on campus less than half an hour and I turned to him and said, “I’m home.” He actually remembers this. I knew that this was the only place I could be. It was really weird but it’s true."