âI imagined myself on my deathbed thinking, ‘Oh, what have you done with your life? I made the hair shinier and more beautiful ‘- I couldn’t do that. “
Santiago Schnell, the new dean of the Notre Dame College of Sciences, began his career working in the beauty care department of Procter and Gamble. It was there that he realized he had a different calling, he said: to contribute more to the world than just superficial beauty. Before becoming dean, Schnell made a substantial contribution to a growing field of science: mathematical biology.
Schnell said his unique undergraduate training at Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela has helped him in his chosen field of study.
“[Universidad Simon Bolivar] requires everyone to go through an advanced math degree, no matter what subject you’re taking, âhe said. âThe philosophy is that mathematics actually provides you with the tools you need to be an effective scientist, effective engineer, or effective scholar. So that gives you clarity of mind.
Schnell said the University of Venezuela also requires students to pursue a minor in a non-science discipline. He also completed a minor in Philosophy, which he says helps him gain a more complete view of the world.
It was after his undergraduate years that Schnell briefly worked at Procter and Gamble and said he realized his career was meant to take on greater challenges. He then completed his doctorate in mathematics at the University of Oxford – an easy transition, he said, due to the graduate degree in mathematics he obtained during his undergraduate years. .
At Oxford, Schnell majored in mathematical biology. He said this field aims to contextualize biological processes in mathematical models to help laboratories work more efficiently.
âI specialized in a relatively new field at the time called mathematical biology. This is where you try to define biomedical problems and chemicals in mathematical terms, âhe said. âIf you have very complicated hypotheses that you need to test in the lab, sometimes you can test them first with a mathematical model. “
During his doctoral studies, Schnell focused on improving models of biochemical pathways, he said. At the same time, he also studied the mechanisms of formation of the spine during development called somitogenesis. It has become the basis of the research he will do for the rest of his career and that he continues to do at Notre-Dame.
âMy main focus is on hypothesis-based research, which I do as a team scientist,â he said. “But what I do as an individual scientist is the whole science of measurement.”
Schnell spent 10 years completing his doctorate. He explained that it is a long process because, in order to obtain a doctorate, a scientist must bring new knowledge in his field.
âWhen you do the doctorate, you create the information in your textbook,â Schnell said. âYou can’t teach in the classroom how to create new information. The only thing that can be taught is to work closely with another scientist.
Schnell continued his career researching and holding various positions until he was hired as head of the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the University of Michigan. He said this post as head of a department helped shape the rest of his career.
“It was a good experience for me because I learned how to impose strategic planning with the deans and professors, by negotiating and working with the office of the president, I ended up having a better experience of the operation of the company. research from that point of view, but like many other points of view, such as improving your programs, improving research centers, âhe said.
At Notre Dame, Schnell said he had ambitious plans he would like to implement to improve research centers and collaborations between colleges.
“I am in love with this institution, there are so many beautiful things that can be done here that I would love to have the opportunity to make enough changes, and I have an ambitious plan,” he explained. . “One thing that is actually missing is to have a uniform house where [all scientists that] work with biomedical processes can all communicate more often.
Schnell also said he intended to find new ways to âdo more Domers,â such as increasing postdoctoral fellowship positions within the College of Science.
Overall, Schnell said he hopes to help foster a community of well-rounded students who can make good contributions not only to science but to society at large.
âWe have to create good human beings and understand how life works,â he said. “The mysteries of life, they don’t just boil down to the chemical and physical components – they’re … bigger than that.”