Alumni Spotlight

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Betsy Towner Levine
Senior Writer
etlevine@ucdavis.edu

Richard Lieber, '83

9/4/2012

Richard Lieber, Ph.D., spends a lot of time in his muscle-physiology lab at UC San Diego. But that doesn’t mean he works too much.

“I have been very blessed in that I have never had a ‘job’ since graduating from Davis,” says Lieber, who earned his B.S. and then Ph.D. here. “I was able to pursue my passion, here at UCSD for the past 30 years, running a research lab, teaching and serving the University.”

What he doesn’t add is that “serving” the university includes heading The National Skeletal Muscular Research Center, one of six nationally funded research centers focusing on rehabilitation science. The center’s core areas of expertise are skeletal muscle histology, biomechanics, imaging and metabolism.

Lieber credits UC Davis for setting him on his path to research the musculoskeletal system—one colorful class in particular. “It really was the famous Physiology 100 series taught by the Hor(o)witz duo,” referring to Dr. Barbara Horwitz and Dr. John Horowitz. “They trained my brain to think critically, to evaluate data and to think up the next best experiment. They also trained me to love the literature and to admire a well designed experiment.

In Lieber’s view, critical thinking is the central skill of science, one he has focused on imparting to students over his teaching career. And although that skill applies to all scientific disciplines, to Lieber, animal physio is especially thrilling because it, well, animates science.

“Animal Physiology at UCD taught me how to think critically. It brought together much of what I had learned in biochemistry and chemistry and gave it life, in the form of physiology!” Lieber says. “That combined with a lot of practice with the literature set me up beautifully for a career in science.”

He advises undergraduates at any university to try to find that blend of skill and passion in their fields, making sure that their undergraduate majors teach them how to think critically and end up in fields they love. And as he knows, the first is actually easier than the second.

“I don’t know any other way to accomplish this than to be willing to try many things before making the final “choice” for career. And if it turns out you were wrong, try again!” he advises.

Dean James E.K. Hildreth will recognize Lieber for his outstanding career at the College of Biological Sciences Annual Alumni Awards and College Celebration on October 4, 2012. Lieber is one of the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients.

To balance out his “work,” Lieber enjoys time with his wife and three nearly-adult kids. He says he continues to keep himself sane by running on the beach several times a week, both a hint that his play might take a lot of work after all, and that this muscle physiologist understands well how to apply research to actual life.