The vast majority of students who matriculate through the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) at OHSU come with a degree in the biological sciences. So when Jeff Dzubay entered the NGP in 1993, he stood alone as the program's only Physics major. A Neuroscience class sparked his interest as an undergrad at the University of Washington. He remembers that with his physics and math background, his classmates "had more trouble with the Nernst equation than I did." Dzubay decided to pursue a graduate degree in research, and "took the path of least resistance" to an electrophysiology lab on the second floor of the Vollum Institute. Pun intended.
Part of Dzubay's decision to attend OHSU over other graduate programs was influenced by the fact his wife had been accepted to medical school at OHSU. And as a Portland native, he was happy to come back to his hometown. But he says it came down to the feeling he got from then-NGP Director Tom Soderling. Unlike at other programs, "he was very open and honest and welcoming, and I thought, 'that's the program for me.'" Likewise, he found a good fit in the lab of Craig Jahr. There he worked with Jahr and a small group of postdocs to do intricate ion channel analysis—what he calls "some interesting stuff in electrophysiology." Dzubay partly credits his contributions in the lab to his math and computer skills. Jahr agrees. "Jeff certainly brought abilities and expertise to the lab that helped us to do some things we wouldn't have been able to do without him."
By the time he finished his graduate degree, Dzubay had a two-year-old and a newborn and was in a marriage between two career professionals. He became a part-time "Mr. Mom" while teaching physics classes at the University of Portland and at Mt. Hood Community College. Dzubay found teaching a rewarding experience—"I enjoyed explaining how the world works." But as many Adjunct Faculty have found, it's neither a financially sustainable way to make a living nor is it "a clear path towards becoming a full professor," even at smaller universities that emphasize teaching.
Dzubay's next stop was a successful postdoc with Tom Otis at the University of California, Los Angeles. And when his wife got a great job offer in Eugene, Oregon, Dzubay used his network to find a job at Molecular Probes—which is now part of the enormous Life Technologies. After a brief stint as a Technical Assistance Representative—what he jokingly calls "the toughest job ever"—Dzubay was offered a position as a Product Manager in the marketing department. Suddenly, he found himself responsible for managing $12 million worth of research products. He likens the experience to running one's own little company within a larger corporation. But Dzubay wanted to get back closer to the science end of the business, so he communicated to his manager that he'd like to switch to Research and Development. He then proposed the development of a new product: a high-throughput screening assay for calcium release in cells—something he saw a big need for in the market. "They said, 'OK, you got three months to do it!'" Dzubay's endeavor paid off: he recently learned that the products he's been involved in developing have earned the company $6 million.
Although he finds the interplay between business and science "kind of exciting," he does sometimes miss the simplicity of the bench. "Research is based on the facts…you can do an experiment and make your case based on the data." In marketing, however, decisions can sometimes be influenced by "who's the loudest in the room." Now he has a balance between the two worlds in Customer Anthropology, a corporate term for understanding what scientists might want from the company in the future. He can't talk specifics about the "blue-sky" project he's working on now, but calls it "a new type of label-free imaging that might give us new ways of looking at biology."
Though no longer married, Dzubay expects to stay in Eugene for the foreseeable future to be near his children, now in middle school. Along the way, Dzubay discovered a passion for flying airplanes and has earned his commercial pilot license. He fantasizes about a retirement career flying tourists to Mexico or Hawaii. But for now he's enjoying the niche he's carved out for himself, nestled between science and business.