September 7, 2006

C.U.’s Newest First Lady Robin Davisson Reveals All

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The Sun recently sat down with Prof. Robin Davisson, biomedical sciences, to talk to the new first lady of Cornell about living in Donlon, singing in the shower, research, who she would like to invite to dinner, scuba diving, writing haikus and more.

The Sun: How was your stay in Donlon?

Robin Davisson: It’s a cozy little apartment. It’s a lot livelier at Donlon than at our house. And people keep different hours in Donlon than we do at home. We would come back after dinner and people would drop by or had left notes for us inviting us for various things. So David was invited to this JAM session.

Sun: If you could invite three people to dinner, who would they be?
Davisson: Hillary Clinton, Pete Seeger, and Rosalind Franklin.

Sun: Why did you go into medical research?

Davisson: As a kid, I was always fascinated by all living things so ultimately it translated into biology for me as a high school student. So I started at Iowa and completed the pre-med requirements and even so far as took the MCAT. But as a senior undergrad student, I decided to do an honors research project. And within a week of being in the lab, I was absolutely bitten by the research bug. My first project was on stress … while I don’t study stress anymore, it’s what got me interested in the cardiovascular system.

Sun: Do you bring the scientific mindset out of the lab and apply it elsewhere in life?

Davisson: I think when you’re trained as a scientist you learn to think in different ways. You learn to hold things up to the light and think about things in terms of experimental design. In the sense of even simple questions in life, you think, how do I really know the answer to that, how can I design an experiment, not that I’m designing experiments all the time. So you do think about things differently.
Sun: What else do you like to do?
Davisson: I like to run when I’m healthy, when my legs are holding up. I’m running now, but much less. I also scuba dive. And here’s another crossover between life and science: in science there are always fields and subfields and sub-subfields. And I discovered within my little subfield of the world, that there happened to be a group of my colleagues that happened to be scuba divers. So we dive once a year, sometimes twice a year.
Sun: Do you have a favorite film?
Davisson: David and I are film buffs and we love all kinds of films. My all-time favorite film and maybe book is To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s the first one that comes to mind, but there are just so many great films. We love independent films, so we’re always looking. We’re excited that Little Miss Sunshine is here.
Sun: Do you play any instruments?
Davisson: I am just about to start take piano lessons. I played piano as a small child for about a year. And so I have a distant memory of that. I hope my neurons are still firing in a way to allow me to learn! So I wouldn’t consider myself a musician, but I’m a lover of music, so we listen to a lot of music.
Sun: What kind of music do you listen to?
Davisson: We listen to jazz because it’s a big part of our lives, but I also like folk music. And I especially like female singers and songwriters — Patty Griffin, Dar Williams. So I love that music; that’s what’s in my car.
Sun: Do you sing aloud?
Davisson: Oh yeah, and in the shower.
Sun: No complaints from President Skorton?
Davisson: No!
Sun: So I also heard that you write haikus with President Skorton. Is that true?
Davisson: Yeah. I think one of those that we wrote will be featured today at the inauguration. I’m not going to tell you what it is, so you’re going to have to wait and see.
Sun: Do you think you could write a haiku on the spot?
Davisson: I’ll probably pass. It really is such an economy of word and meaning and thinking about how you want to say it. So it’s something we both work at. We come up with the idea together. He’s very good at getting the cadence right, so he’ll throw some words out there that work with the pattern. And then we work together to tweak the words, so it’s a real team effort.
Sun: Do you plan on waiting in line to get hockey tickets this year?
Davisson: I would love to do that. … I haven’t watched a lot of hockey games and haven’t known about hockey but when David was announced as President last January we went to the hockey game that night and that was such a cool experience to be there in that beautiful rink and gosh, the spirit in that rink was just overwhelming. And the other night we sat down at dinner with the basketball team and we want to get to one of their games. We found out that they’re playing Iowa in December.
Sun: So who will you be cheering for?
Davisson: We’re cheering for Cornell!