The Department of Biology's Newest Faculty Member

The Department of Biology interviews the newest faculty member
Dr. Masato Yoshizawa
Dr. Yoshizawa, the new Biology faculty member, will be teaching Developmental Biology.

Where were you working before joining the University of Hawaii at Manoa Biology?

I was a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada Reno for one year, 2013-2014. Before that, I worked at the University of Maryland as a postdoc for 8 years. The Bill Jeffery lab in Maryland studies developmental biology and I mastered to work with cavefish embryos and larvae. Bill is a great mentor and encouraged me to prime the genetics of adaptive behaviors in Cavefish from the beginning of my postdoc career. Also, my work experiences in Nevada were outstanding. I could see so many friends and another mentor/friend, Alex Keene, who provided me great trainings as a faculty and build together on-going collaborative works in cavefish neuroscience.

What do you think of Hawaii so far?

It’s a very nice working place with a beautiful sky and ocean view. People are relaxed and enjoying their lives and works. I am very excited to explore this gorgeous Hawai`i further. Faculties and students are also very nice and helpful. I have seen multiple collaborative opportunities and am excited to have my courses too.

Can you explain your new job in the Biology Department? What is your role?

I am going to teach developmental biology courses from 2015 spring. It would be a size of ~ 50 junior or higher level students, and possibly requires Genetics (BIOL 375) and Cell & Molecular Biology (BIOL 275). I will show how these disciplines are integrated and lead deeper understanding in developmental biology. The mechanism how a single cell develops into our complex bodies is just amazing.

What has been your research focus leading up to this point in your career? What brought you to the field of biology?

I was fascinated by immunology first because of a TV program (NHK), similar to National Geographic. There are a lot of amazing things going on in biology, and then, I became more interested in what seems more complex, neuroscience. We have not still had answers for simple questions, “how we can think” or “how we can remember” in the terms of neural networks, even though so many excellent researchers have been trying. It may be because the brain is too complex. But, if we take account of the fact that this complicated nervous system emerged through evolutionary processes, we may be able to have a clue of these answers by looking at simpler evolving animals.  I got this idea in my Ph.D. and chose cavefish lab to tackle these questions. Why behavior? because behavior is a useful window to analyze the function of nervous system. 

What was your favorite course you took during your undergrad?

I liked physics and developmental biology especially their labs. Analytic methods in physics seemed so powerful to resolve many natural phenomenon and observing the first cleavage of sea star’s embryos was so amazing! In my time, there wasn’t any biostatistics class, and I wished I could have had it.

Did you always know you wanted to go into research as a career?

Yes, I knew that I was going to choose a research career since early time. I still remember that my 5th grade teacher predicted I was going to be a scientist. Of course, I had a moment to seek alternative careers when every my experiment failed. It was in my second year of Ph.D. but my mentor let me rethink which career would be fun to me and gave me a time. After a while of intense works, I could find a new molecular mechanism that bridged immune cell- and neuronal cell-migration. That was a critical step to become an independent researcher, and I appreciate my mentor giving me a chance. I had also been thinking about alternative career just before I got this position. I am very glad to be able to continue my research and really appreciate my family and friends who have been encouraging and supporting me.

What type of things are you looking forward to as a part of the new UH Manoa Faculty?

I would like to contribute to make UH Manoa a further research active institute. I believe any type of academic achievements will be great for students’ careers. I am looking forward to working with undergrad and graduate students, sharing the excitement in research and science. Also, building new cavefish research core would be fun, and I predict this and many collaborative opportunities in Hawaii would be attractive enough to bring many excellent researchers for talks and collaborations from US, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Any closing thoughts? Plan for new research? Projects?

My lab will hopefully be functional in a month. As soon as my aquarium system starts running, I’d like to work with students who will work with fish and do some researches. There are many projects must be done, and I have been working with undergraduate and graduate students for the part of them. What I am very excited is to see my students are motivated and develop their own research ideas. Excellent students are deserved to present their works in the international conference and/or visit to collaborators for the their summer works. I will put all my efforts to provide such opportunities to my students.