10 Questions with Jeremiah Hagler

Jeremiah Hagler, Instructor in Biology, currently teaches the Biology 500, Biology 580, and History 590 sequences. Hagler has also taught Biology 600 and conducted extensive biological research outside of Andover at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Harvard University. In his free time, Hagler enjoys reading nonfiction and running his photography Instagram account, @jeremiah.hagler, where he posts close-up images of various insects and animals.

1. When and why did you first become interested in pursuing biology?


I’ve always wanted to do biology since I can remember. I grew up in California, in a pretty rural area. I had a lot of opportunities to get outside and encounter nature, and so I think I developed a real love of just anything living during that time as a child, and it just kind of grew. Actually, I originally wanted to do marine biology. So I was more interested in actually the oceans for a while. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in doing biology.

2. What’s some biological research you’ve done outside of Andover?


I did a Senior thesis project on how the ribosome functions, so that was one major project I worked on in college. And then in graduate school, I did a whole series of things that you normally do in graduate school; you rotate through labs and do some various projects. But the main projects I worked on there was, for my thesis, I was working on the Vaccinia virus, which is the virus that’s used for the vaccine against smallpox. And then right before I came to Andover, I worked on immune gene regulation [and] signal transduction, so how cells communicate with other cells and trigger certain genes to be turned on and off. 

3. What’s your favorite research project you’ve ever done, or discovery you made?


Right at the end of my postdoc work, I was at Harvard before I came to Andover. There’s this protein that’s involved in the regulation that we hadn’t yet discovered its structure or its identity. The lab was doing some work on this, and I decided to actually see if I could isolate biochemically, a bunch of these types of proteins. I found a whole bunch—I found like five of them. It was a project that I could have developed into my own scientific research work, but then life kind of twists and turns, and I ended up not being able to continue to work on that. 

4. Why did you decide to come teach at Andover?


I came across this ad in the “Science” magazine, which is a major scientific publication, one I’ve actually published in, and it was for a visiting scientist and molecular biology at this place called Phillips Academy. And so I researched it and found it’s this high school, and I thought, I’ve always had this kind of fantasy about teaching high school students how to do science. I thought I’d take a crack at it since it would allow me to stay in the Boston area where my wife was doing her science, so we wouldn’t have to leave; my wife wouldn’t have to leave her position to accommodate mine. So I applied and interviewed, and it went really well. I got the job, and I became a teacher instantaneously at that point.

5. How do you like teaching biology, as opposed to doing research projects? Which one do you like better?


I honestly would say I like teaching better. But every now and then I get a pang for doing research. When I was first doing research at Phillips Academy, it was cool because I could combine my love and interest in teaching with my science. And the cool thing about [Biology-600] —the kids do original research, right? They propose their own projects and figure out what materials they need and set up long term projects using the lab in [the Gelb Science Center], and so that’s fun. I think probably the most rewarding piece is teaching kids the fundamentals of biology and then seeing them develop their abilities as a scientist.

6. What inspired you to start your Instagram account?


When I was on sabbatical, I had a lot of time by myself just exploring. I was coming across things that I found with my phone that if I get really close, I get some really good images. I think the first one that I ever really started realizing I could actually do some cool things with was a garter snake that I encountered in a walk. I just post photos on Instagram, so anyone who wants to see those images can see them and follow them. So it’s just a game of fun to do, a cool hobby. It’s enjoyable and allows me to interact with nature the way I used to as a kid when I was running around in the woods all the time. 

7. What’s your favorite food?


Depends on the day. I like a good barbecue. But then on Sundays, a good pizza is really good. Except I have celiac, so a lot of things that [Paresky Commons] serves, I can’t eat. So for example, I can’t really get pizza at the hearth. I don’t go there anymore because I can’t eat most of the food there anymore. But I think barbecue pizza, and I’m a big fan of Mexican food.

8. What do you like doing in your free time?


Well, I do my work with my cameras, so that’s a lot of my free time. When I’m not doing that, I read a lot, and I watch movies and stuff like normal people, so nothing really extraordinary. I read a lot; I read mostly nonfiction. So I don’t read novels—I read stuff about things that are real things.

9. What’s your favorite book?


“Drawdown” is one that’s had an influence on me recently. “Drawdown” is a book about different ways we as a society or a scientist or as an economy can work on reducing CO2 emissions to control global climate change. All the different methods that are talked about are ranked by their importance, and the cool thing about that is that many of them are things you wouldn’t have thought of as being important for controlling CO2 emissions. For example, one of my favorites is number five or number six: the education of women as a CO2 emissions control method. So getting countries in impoverished parts of the world to really encourage women’s education would actually result in large savings in CO2 emissions.

10. What’s your favorite living organism?


I’m partial to cardinals, birds. I don’t know why, partly because in California, you don’t have cardinals. I’m fascinated by them. I love the coloration of male cardinals and female cardinals—they are both really interesting. And they’re actually a really interesting example of evolution of sexual selection, I think, so they’re kind of cool biological organisms that represent things I teach. So that’s cool, too. And they overwinter in a harsh environment, so they’re very hardy.