Laura Burrack, PhD

Laura Burrack, PhD

Associate Professor of Biology

What are your areas of research and teaching expertise?

My teaching spans several areas of biology including microbiology, cancer biology, molecular genetics, and the interdisciplinary borders between biology and society. My research uses microbes to explore the mechanism and consequences of several types of genetic changes seen in cancer cells and during the development of drug resistance in pathogens.

What is your teaching style? Write a couple of sentences describing your teaching methods and philosophy.

A central theme in my teaching is effectively assisting students to learn how to ask and answer questions. A primary goal is to guide students towards asking questions that engage their curiosity, expand their knowledge, and integrate information from different aspects of their education and/or experiences. In many courses, we take these questions one step further to conduct research that expands not only the students’ knowledge but also discovers new knowledge. It is important to me to help students think critically about biological processes and the implications of science in society, rather than simply to have them memorize facts. An essential component of asking and answering questions is the evaluation of information, the integration of prior knowledge and experiences, and the communication of questions and answers with others. I incorporate these elements into my courses as well.

I find it so exciting to see students make connections between concepts in class or in lab and other classes or experiences. I love seeing them develop confidence as they start to figure out how all of the pieces fit together and how to apply knowledge to new situations.

Describe your "lightbulb moment."

I have always loved figuring out how things work from an early age. I was the type of kid who mixed together combinations of food and household chemicals to make the best glue and took apart broken appliances. My second year of college, I had the opportunity to work in a biology research lab for the first time. I enjoyed figuring out how to best collect data, use creativity to design experiments, and learn new things about how biological systems work. I was hooked for life.

What do you enjoy outside the classroom?

When I am not teaching, researching, or chasing around a preschooler, I enjoy cooking and baking. I love having family and friends over for dinner and trying new recipes (or making up my own).

Do you have an academic mentor?

My own undergraduate experience at a liberal arts college was essential to shaping my academic journey. In particular, my advisor, Dr. Jan Serie, had a huge impact. I had my first research experience in her lab, and she always encouraged me to explore as many different disciplines as possible while in college. The classes I took as an undergraduate in history, anthropology, and many other areas were essential foundations for my interdisciplinary teaching and engagement at Gustavus.