Teacher Feature: Dr. Collins

Camilla Bianchi ‘19

November 2018

Dr. Collins is the science department’s newest addition, teaching College Biology and Biology of Cancer. He took some time to talk to the Bardvark about his background, his passion for teaching, and his life in general. Here is what he told us!

Dr. Collins was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he grew up. He then attended college at Ball State University, also in Indiana. He has always known that he wanted to be a scientist; ever since he was about five years old, he “pretended to be a scientist inventing some machine to solve world hunger or cure diseases.” However, he discovered his passion for biology later on in college. He initially wanted to be a physician because he has always been interested in using his studies to help people, but he eventually came to realize that he was more interested in “finding out why people get sick in the first place” rather than directly curing them. After deciding to be a biologist, he discovered his passion for neurobiology through a research opportunity that one of his professors introduced him to. Through this opportunity, Dr. Collins met his first undergraduate mentor, who studied ALS (a degenerative neurological disease). Deciding to stick with neurobiology, he then specialized in this field for his PhD.

After college, Dr. Collins decided to take a break before starting grad school in order to explore his academic interests. He moved to Chicago, where he worked on neurodegenerative diseases and congenital myasthenias at the University of Chicago. He then moved to New York to earn his PhD at The Rockefeller University, where he is still working as a postdoc. Dr. Collins recounts the seven years that he spent at The Rockefeller University as extremely challenging and rewarding. One of the main challenges that he recalled is the so-called “Impostor Syndrome” that he experienced, which he described as the concept of “no matter how much you know or how good you are, you always feel like an impostor.” This effect, he explained, is mainly caused by the fact that grad students are used to being on top of their work and their field and when pursuing a PhD, they struggle to cope with not always knowing everything.

So what brought Dr. Collins to BHSEC? Just like he always knew he wanted to be a scientist, he also wanted to teach because he has always enjoyed “helping people learn.” He invested this passion into his work at UChicago, where he often mentored students at his lab and at Rockefeller, where he helped out one of his best friends, the Director of Science Outreach, by working with students coming in through the outreach program. He found that he worked really well with students, enjoying the experience as well, which further motivated him to take on a teaching job. He is especially excited to work at BHSEC because of our early college program. He is a big supporter of this system because it allows students to get credit for the hard work that they put into their classes in high school. The impact of the program, he points out, is evident with the deep contrast in the level of maturity between Y1 and Y2 students. When asked whether he believes that this program allows BHSEC students to be more mature than other high school students, he responded that “it’s a case-by-case basis;” however, he does believe that BHSEC students are great critical thinkers.

Overall, Dr. Collins’ teaching experience at BHSEC so far has been difficult but wonderful at the same time. He shared, “It’s really hard because of the pressure that I put on myself, as I really care about my students feeling safe and taken care of in their classes and so I work really hard to make sure that’s how they feel.” The energy that he invests in making this goal a reality, he notes, is extremely rewarding in the end when he sees it play out among his students.

When he isn’t teaching, Dr. Collins loves baking, cooking, working out, and watching The Great British Bake Off. He picked up this passion for baking when he worked at UChicago, in order to relieve some of the dress that he was under. “Everyday on my lunch break, I would look up things to bake or to cook and then, on my way home, I would grab all the ingredients and I would bake something new that night.” Baking is also a way for him to practice science in a different way, which adds to his passion for it. Not only is he a baker, but also a proud husband, and pet owner of a dog and cat, named Alvin Barkley and Rosie Purrez. His husband is a filmmaker from Colombia, who moved here to work in theatre and television. Being a full-time teacher is a new experience, but Dr. Collins is well-equipped for the newest chapter of his life. We wish Dr. Collins the best as we warmly welcome him in our BHSEC community!