David Jentsch: Professor of Psychology at Binghamton University
J. David Jentsch is the Empire Innovation Professor of Psychology at Binghamton University in New York, where he runs a laboratory studying the genetic and environmental factors influencing alcohol and drug consumption. In this episode, he and Nick discuss David’s professional roles as a mentor and propose ways to make academia more diverse, accessible, and equitable. “Your decision about where you’re going to go in your life is about where you’re going to feel valued and included,” David says. He emphasizes how, when the people at the top of the power structure tend to be less diverse than everyone else in their field, it makes that field less attractive to talented young researchers.
Aside from his work as a mentor and researcher, David expresses enthusiasm for the opportunities he has to teach others. He tells Nick that “If you’re really passionate about whatever field you work in, you should want to help craft the next generation of people who are going to follow in your footsteps.” David channels his excitement for science into his teaching, updating his course every year to talk about recent findings that he found fascinating. For instance, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s planning to introduce information on the ways that inflammation affects the function of the nervous system.
David is passionate about speaking up and having conversations about difficult or controversial subjects. In fact, his willingness to speak his mind led directly to him being targeted by animal rights groups who harassed his family and firebombed his car. In response he founded the anti-misinformation advocacy group ProTest and became a more outspoken advocate for the importance of animal research. “We shouldn’t look for opportunities to ridicule [animal rights activists] or to stop the conversation,” David says. “We should look for opportunities to have the conversation, to make sure that people understand science has a lot to contribute.”
David’s Favorite Books
Notes for this episode were written by Sam Asinof.