The Man with the Coolest Job in the GalaxyDr. Mohamed Noor is the Dean of Natural Sciences and Professor of Biology at Duke University. Here, Julia Leeman reflects on his visit with the Huang Fellows.
Imagine if your job was to turn your dreams into reality. Impossible right? Not for Dr. Mohamed Noor, the Dean of Natural Sciences and Professor of Biology at Duke University. Dr. Noor’s favorite thing about his career is that he can “dream up a project and do it.” As the principal investigator of the Noor Lab at Duke, Dr. Noor asks intriguing questions in evolutionary genetics and collaborates with his hand-picked team to answer them. Dr. Noor loves collaborating with his team because he can see the excitement they share in uncovering the history of life. In his current project, Dr. Noor studies fruit flies (Drosophila) to determine why lethal alleles persist in natural populations.
Dean of Natural Sciences Mohamed Noor teaches biology at Duke and is a science consultant for CBS’s “Star Trek.”
Conducting cutting-edge research isn’t the only way Dr. Noor makes an impact on society. He is also dedicated to improving education and making learning fun! One of the ways that Dr. Noor fosters interest in science is his connection with Star Trek. As the scientific consultant for the series, Dr. Noor uses science fiction to teach about real-life scientific concepts. Dr. Noor mentioned that the flexibility of his position at Duke allows him to take on such fascinating projects as a part of his service to the scientific community. If you want to know more about the scientific basis behind Star Trek, check out Dr. Noor’s book, called Live, Long, and Evolve. He also has a YouTube channel called BioTrekkie Explains that explains evolution in the context of his favorite series.
At this point, you must be convinced that Dr. Noor has the coolest job in the galaxy, but how did he get to where he is today? His journey into evolutionary biology started in his undergraduate years, where a sense of curiosity drew him towards an evolutionary genetics course. His advisor strongly warned Noor against taking this class, stating that he should take a course “more suited to his abilities.” However, Noor was confident in his potential to succeed in a subject that he was truly interested in. Dr. Noor is proud of the decision he made so early in his career. He encourages students to take advice from the people who know them the most.
After receiving a Bachelor of Science from the College of William and Mary, Noor knew his inquiry into the science of life was not over. He went on to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and complete a postdoctoral residency at Cornell University. Finally, Dr. Noor was ready for his first faculty position at Louisiana State University. This position involved creating a course and building a team for his lab. Dr. Noor loved his job, but soon at a conference, he found people who were just as excited about science as he was. He knew he wanted to become a Duke faculty member. Dr. Noor asked a colleague if there was space at the university, and with a stroke of unexpected luck, he received a position! Dr. Noor reminds students that they never know what they could receive until they ask for it.
After becoming a Duke faculty member, Dr. Noor was offered the position of Dean of Natural Sciences. Some positives of this position are that Dr. Noor receives more funding for his research and can connect with faculty in other areas of science. However, Dr. Noor said he would not want to be a Dean forever because he sometimes feels less connected to the undergraduate population of the university.
Dr. Noor advises undergraduate students hoping to work in academia to find a long-term research project with a great mentor. He also encourages students to be “relatable” and “sympathetic” when communicating with others whose views surrounding scientific topics differ from their own. Overall, Dr. Noor inspires students to follow their passions and believe in themselves.
Julia Leeman, Huang Fellow ’24
Julia is from Charlotte, NC and plans to double major in Neuroscience and Music.