#WhyWeLearn: Alumnus combines passions for science, writing

Beck Phillips, AUM Strategic Communications and Marketing | May 9, 2017

Editor’s note: The #WhyWeLearn series focuses on the lives that students build at AUM.

Learning at AUM helps students to find their niche in life; and, along the way, they meet professors who help them discover latent talents within themselves. Alumnus Philip Kramer came to AUM to become a writer, but he discovered a passion for science. AUM professors encouraged him to unite the two passions, and it’s been a rewarding ride ever since.Kramer_headshot_0.png

When Kramer came to AUM, he planned to earn an English degree. “I wanted many things, but one passion stood above the rest: writing,” he said. However, that soon changed. He took a work-study position in the biology department and became interested in the program itself.

A few weeks later, he applied to the program. “Science, I decided, would be my career, but writing would always be my hobby,” Kramer said. “For me, writing was a way to communicate those complex ideas I couldn’t quite vocalize, to exercise my imagination, and to hopefully inspire others.”

Writing began to play a larger role in Kramer’s scientific pursuits than he had originally imagined. For the most part, he kept his writing and science classes separate. Then, one day, his Writing Fiction professor Dr. Jeffrey Melton gave Kramer the advice all writers will eventually hear: “Write what you know.” He realized then that the two worlds he loved so much could be combined.

Many professors at AUM helped him to succeed in both writing and science. Kramer particularly appreciates Biology professors Dr. Sue Thomson and Dr. Ben Okeke, as well as Medical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences faculty Dr. Kyle Taylor and Professor Kathy Jones: “I owe many of them thanks for writing the recommendation letters that played a large role in getting me into grad school.”

Kramer graduated from AUM in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a concentration in Clinical Laboratory Sciences before going on to earn his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences.

As sort of a pre-cursor to STE(A)M — science, technology, engineering, (arts), and math — Kramer says his experiences in each field have been immediately applicable to the others. “The broad scientific background I received at AUM gave me an advantage over my classmates in grad school, many of whom came from highly specialized fields. My interest in hematology, immunology and biochemistry culminated in many successful and highly cited studies in my dissertation lab. My background in writing and the arts has allowed me to communicate my science and create effective figures for my publications and presentations. I use math daily to perform my experiments and to analyze data. I have consulted and beta-tested new technologies for clinical research and have been called on to perform troubleshooting and repairs for those instruments.”

His experiences have also helped him co-author 20 publications in peer-reviewed research journals. Soon Kramer, who also has authored three short stories, plans to publish his first book, Quotidian, a science-fiction novel. Kramer also currently maintains a writing and science blog at pakramer.com that advocates for the use of accurate science in sci-fi.

Kramer recently earned first place in the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story contest, co-hosted by the National Space Society. It was the first short story contest he’d  ever entered. “To say I was surprised to win is an understatement,” Kramer said. Of what he learned here at AUM, he adds, “No skill has been wasted. The [Baen] contest seeks scientifically accurate short stories set in the near future. My story was about a rover operator living in San Francisco who finds himself in the terrifying position to save the life of an astronaut on Mars. I was not qualified from a mathematical, engineering or technological standpoint to create a one hundred percent feasible story, but if there was one thing the sciences taught me, it was how to do research. I spent months investigating every aspect of Mars and rover technology that might be relevant to the story.”

In his scientific career, Kramer applies his talent for writing daily. “Writing scientific grants, publications and reviews requires the use of descriptive and persuasive language. With the current state of scientific funding, a grant must be interesting and comprehensible to stand out among all the rest,” he says. He’s applied for and received two grants for personal funding and has been involved in many large institutional grants that have been funded.

Based on his wildly successful outcomes combining his two passions , Kramer offers this advice to current students: “Never let go of the things that make you happy,” Kramer said. “Take the time to learn about the world, and soon you’ll discover your place. That is, after all, why we learn.”