Richard Cripps, D. Phil
Professor, Principal Investigator, and Director of PREP
Richard M. Cripps was born near Nottingham, England. He received his undergraduate at the University of York where he continued his doctoral work. He graduated with his Doctorate in Philosophy in 1990. His first postdoctoral fellowship was with Dr. Sanford Bernstein from 1990 to 1996. He then continued his training with Dr. Eric Olson at the University of Texas-Southwestern. He first came to Albuquerque as an assistant professor in 1998. His research uses genetics and molecular biology to understand muscle development in Drosophila. Specifically, his focus is on the regulation of muscle-specific gene transcription; identification and characterization of new genes required for heart and muscle development; and the cell biology of developing muscle fibers.
Besides research, Dr. Cripps enjoys running, gardening, tending to his chickens and bees, and listening to good music, mostly, Queen.
Here is a short Q&A with Dr. Cripps.
Q: Why are you interested in muscle development in Drosophila?
A: My interest in muscle goes back to my time as an undergraduate researcher with John Sparrow at the University of York. John realised that flies would be a good model system to genetically dissect the molecular basis of myofibril assembly and contraction. As a geneticist in training, this appealed to me. I guess I ultimately riffed off that, to focus upon using genetics to understand developmental aspects of muscle specification, nevertheless we still have an interest in myofibril assembly. The simplicity of the fly system, coupled with the brilliant genetic tools that we have, make the work accessible. More importantly, because flies are constructed in the same way as humans, means that the mechanisms we uncover in fly biology are broadly relevant to human development and disease.
Q: What is your lab philosophy?
A: I think first and foremost it is to provide an enjoyable place for people to work, where they come to the lab looking forward to what they are doing today. We have a system where each person has their own project, but across the lab there is frequently collaboration in terms of helping out with specific methods that are new to someone. We also try to balance giving people specific guidance, while allowing them space to come up with their ideas and plans. And we are always pointed towards how these experiments will make or contribute to a paper, because that is really the currency in which we deal as scientists.
Q: What expectations do you have for postdocs?
A: I find that by the time someone becomes a postdoc, they have developed the ethic and drive to work in a laboratory, and it is more my goal to point them in the right direction and provide support and guidance as needed. It’s a very competitive job market out there, and it is useful for postdocs to develop as many new skills as they can that lie outside of the research laboratory, in order to make them stand out: how to write grants, how to manage folks, and (if their interests lie in that direction) how to teach. Being located on an undergraduate campus puts us in a fortunate position for teaching opportunities. But far more important than any of those things is to do the best and most impactful research that you can do. Having the highest quality papers seems to me to be the best ticket to whatever job you have next, because it shows that you can excel in your primary job.
Q: For graduate students? And for staff?
A:We like to rely on people who realize that the best way to excel in their careers is for them to take ownership of their current job, whether that is in a training position or a staff position. For graduate students, it’s important to realize that graduate school is a marathon rather than a sprint (pardon the cliché). What that means to me is not only that you have to be patient with your studies and not expect instant success, but more importantly that you have to have a certain level of thick-skinned bloody-minded drive to push to the end. I reckon that about year three of graduate school is often the toughest: because you are far from the start line, thus some of the sparkle has rubbed off; and still far enough away from the finish line that it still seems like some distance away. This is when your bullishness comes in, to get you “over the hump” as Robert Heinlein might say.
Q: Finally, what inspirational words would you share with an individual seeking a career in science?
A: Be sure that this is your passion. The drive and motivation for science, that sustain you through the hard times, come from your interest and love for discovering new things, and for pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge. If discovery is not what switches you on, then this is not the career for you. On the other hand, when you choose science for a career, it’s hard to find a job that is more fulfilling, enabling you to exercise your imagination in an environment of open discussion.