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Faculty Spotlight on Haim Weizman

Haim Weizman

Our first faculty spotlight features Sixth College affiliated faculty member and chemistry professor Haim Weizman. Haim grew up in Israel in a coastal city near Tel Aviv and came to San Diego 7 years ago to do a postdoctorate.

  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • Who has spare time!? (He laughs.) Most of what I have, I spend with my family. I have three boys who are 5, 11 and 15 years old, so that's the main thing. Besides that I mainly read. I like novels either in Hebrew or English. My favorite author is John Irving. I like his style of writing. He is able to come up with many details of scenarios that can be realistic and imaginary at the same time. He has a very unique style, and I enjoy it. The first one I read was "The World According to Garp," and that really caught me when I was 16 or 17, and since then I've read it a couple of times again because in different phases of your life you look at things differently. Like when you're young and the author talks about kids, you don't really know - but once you have kids, you can look at it in a different way. I also like to go hiking and traveling and build stuff.

  • What is something you can do or have done that would surprise your students to know?
  • I think that I'm pretty boring in this respect. Most of the time I really enjoy doing research in the lab. I'm probably a pretty boring person because I enjoy what I'm doing at work, so I probably have less need to have a hobby. Some people are just bored at work and then they need something else, I guess, to feel happy. But if you're happy with what you're doing, there's less of a need to - for example - travel to an exotic place. Every day is exciting here.
  • What are your research interests?
  • I have two research interests. Part is related to me being an organic chemist. In the area of bio organics, we're trying to learn more about the interactions of organic molecules with biological systems. The main thing is to synthesize molecules, and so the process is looking at the problem. You imagine something, you design a molecule, and then you struggle with making it up, so it takes a lot of imagination. It's like building with Legos or being a carpenter. So this is one interest, and the other is research about chemical education. There are two parts to this: One is to design new labs and curriculum that will be exciting for students and bring them up to date. Organic chemistry is progressing so fast, and students need to learn a lot. We want students to think broader. What happens a lot is students take a class, erase everything, and take another class. What I'm trying to do is blend it all together, so we're developing new labs and seminars to do this. The other part is to just understand what problems students are having, how we can enhance the understanding of chemistry, and how we can make it fun.
  • How did you choose your particular field? Did you ever want to do anything else?
  • I chose organic chemistry because I enjoy the creativity of building things. I always knew I wanted to do science because it's just fun. But I chose organic chemistry because I was starting to enjoy the fact that I can build something. It's very artistic in this respect.
  • How did you become affiliated with Sixth College?
  • I mainly know science major students. I don't know that many art students, for example, and that is part of the reason why I chose Sixth College. I was not assigned to Sixth College. I asked to transfer because I wanted to feel that I could help shape it, because it's new. I also really like the idea (of being affiliated with Sixth) because science and art go together here. People who come from the outside sometimes don't see it. For them, science is numbers and formulas, things they can't relate to, but it is totally the same, just a different side of it. For me, when I'm looking at molecules, it's an artistic thing - so that's why I like the theme of Sixth College.

  • How would you describe your undergraduate years? How do you think the undergraduate experience has changed since you were an undergrad?
  • I guess my experience is very different because I was an undergraduate in another country. We had only three years to complete our undergraduate studies. We were working much harder, I think. We would have somewhere around 30 hours a week in labs and class and on top of this you also had homework. And in Israel, most people had to work to support themselves. Also, most of the people are more mature because you first go into the Army for 3 years, so after that you probably appreciate the opportunity to study and learn. Sometimes when I look at the undergrads here, I think it would be a good idea for them to take a year break to appreciate what they have.
  • What advice would you give to new students?
  • A couple of things: First to be on top of things all of the time. It's easy to think it's just the beginning of the quarter, I'm tired, I can play more video games - and then it's too late. Then second, they should come to office hours and talk with their professors and get help, meaning not just asking about the research or the problem you don't understand, but also getting advice about other things. Professors here have some experience in life. Students can seek advice about finding job opportunities or what to do next. I think that by exploring and talking to professors in different fields, they will have a bigger picture. And students should try to enjoy what they are doing. I have lots of advice! The last one probably would be to study in groups. Studying in groups was a wonderful experience for me as an undergrad. This is something I don't necessarily see here, because students are too competitive maybe, or they don't see that learning together is good for both people. Suddenly you understand on a much more fundamental level. If you are in a study group, you will find other things to do together, so find a group that will support you both in studies and having fun. Look for the right people, who will stick with you for a long time. Also, many students don't realize that at this age, this is a wonderful period of their life. Their only responsibility is just for themselves, really, and they should take advantage of this. There is no boss on their head. They don't need to do anything else besides take care of themselves.
  • So for the students who are hesitant to come and talk with their professors, what encouragement or advice would you give them?
  • No one will eat them, OK?! Basically just come and see. You might be surprised. If someone is not very friendly, give it another chance. Maybe they were busy and had to submit a proposal on that same night and they just needed to finish it, so give it a second chance. If you are really afraid, I don't know . . . come with a friend.

- By Beverly Gallagher

For more information, contact Lynne McMullin.