Professor Profile: Dr. Judith Van Houten

Dr. Judith L. Van Houten, who has taught in the University of Vermont Biology Department for the past twenty-three years, is an inspiration to students interested in the study of Biology and related fields. During our meeting, she expressed an energetic love for Biology rooted early in her life. When I asked her when she became interested in science, she replied, “I always wanted to be a scientist…since I was a child (Van Houten). Her dedication to her field is apparent in her teaching, research and numerous outside projects.

Outside of her teaching at UVM and role as Chair of the Biology Department, Van Houten is the Associate Director of VT-EPSCoR and the Co-Director of the Vermont Genetics Network. EPSCoR and the Vermont Genetics Network are two different statewide grants aimed at improving science infrastructure across the state of Vermont.

Van Houten works with faculty, undergraduate, and graduate students in these programs to help science grow.

In addition to her busy schedule of genetics classes and involvement with outside programs, Van Houten is very active in research. Dr. Van Houten’s research at the University of Vermont is multidisciplinary but is primarily focused on neuroscience.

In her research, Van Houten uses Paramecium, single-celled organisms, to study smell and taste. Paramecium, “swimming neurons,” detect odors and tastes by responding to stimuli by membrane electrical change.

Van Houten publishes several papers about her research each year. Her most recent publication, “Glycosyl Phosphatidylinositol-Anchored Proteins in Chemosensory Signaling: Antisense Manipulation of Paramecium tetraurelia PIG-A Gene Expression,” was published in the December 2003 issue of Eukaryotic Cell. Van Houten’s funding from her research comes from the National Institute of Health (NIH). Annually, she receives approximately $700,000 direct cost.

Dr. Van Houten enjoys working in the UVM Biology department because all of the faculty members are dedicated to research and teaching, stressing the idea that UVM is a research university.

She suggests that undergraduate students interested in pursuing a career in biology should take advantage of the opportunities at UVM and become involved with laboratory research. “Students should get hands on experience,” working in labs (Van Houten).

The faculty of professors at UVM are usually willing to take on undergraduate researchers in addition to their graduate students. Van Houten highlights the fact that the strong graduate programs are an important part of UVM research.

The University of Vermont is also a good place to work because of its size and structure, according to Van Houten. Since all of the departments, Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, Engineering, and Medical, are located on the same campus, Van Houten can easily exchange information with other professors to promote research between departments. She values her strong faculty of friends from Biology and other departments.