Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, Meg Dickinson chats with Champaign resident Paul J. Hergenrother. Getting Personal appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. In the Oct. 16 newspaper, Melissa Merli chats with Farmer City resident Kim Sheahan, 55, a professional storyteller and the assistant director of education at the Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois.
Explain in one sentence what it is you do.
I teach undergraduate and graduate students and run a research group of about 20 people working on the development of novel anticancer and antibacterial compounds in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois.
What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?
I usually get up at about 5:45 a.m., shower, eat breakfast and go to the lab.
What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?
I ate at Panera Bread Co. with my colleagues, Professors Wilfred van der Donk, Ryan Bailey, Scott Silverman and Doug Mitchell.
Best high school memory.
Playing on my high school basketball team.
Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.
Nike Witness high-tops. I'm from Akron, Ohio, so I have a soft spot for LeBron James. These shoes help when I take my talents to the ARC (Athletic and Recreation Complex) on campus.
What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?
Spending time with my wife, Dianne, and kids, perhaps some golf, perhaps a nap.
Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?
I'm sorry to say that the only book I still have from when I was a kid is a five-pager that I wrote (and illustrated) when I was in first grade titled "My Family." Oh, the joy I get watching my kids flip through it and laugh hysterically at my drawings.
Where on earth are you dying to go? Why?
Three years ago, I was on sabbatical and worked in a lab in Italy at the University of Pisa. Dianne and the kids still talk a lot about those three months, and we would love to go back.
Tell me about your favorite pet.
Santa Claus brought frog eggs for my kids about seven years ago, and before our eyes, they turned from cute tadpoles to big, ugly frogs. Two of these creatures exceeded the average frog life span by multiple years, and it was entertaining for my kids and I to watch Dianne shriek when the frogs occasionally escaped during tank cleanings. Hey Santa, no more frogs.
Have you discovered as you matured that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?
My dad is a scientist, so I think we share a lot in common. I often catch myself telling the same story over and over, something my mom is known for.
What would you order for your last meal?
Hopefully, I will not have to make this decision for a while. I'm a sucker for a good pizza.
What can you not live without?
I pride myself on being a minimalist, so there are not possessions I'm very attached to. But, I love both my family and my work.
Who do you have on your iPod?
One can only listen to '80s music for so long, right? Lately, my tastes have been trending toward dance/party music or what Dianne calls "New Jersey Nightclub." Think Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, etc. This leads to much taunting when my friends catch me listening to it.
What's the happiest memory of your life?
It would have to be the birth of our three children. The best part is they were born in three different cities (Austin, Texas; Boston; Champaign), helping me to remember them each as distinct events.
If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?
Of course, I'd want to eat with my wife and kids, but since I'm limited to three, I'd have to leave one of them out. And, I eat with them every night.
So, I'll say Harold Varmus (Nobel Prize winner in 1989 for cancer biology discoveries, current head of the National Cancer Institute), Coach Bruce Weber (so he could tell me how to shoot my three-ball more consistently) and my brother John (who could also use some work on his three-point shot).
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
From my mom: Ask people about themselves.
What's your best piece of advice?
Ask people about themselves and listen to the answer.
What was your first job, and how much did you make an hour?
I shined shoes at the local country club in Akron, making $3.35 an hour.
What was a pivotal decision in your career, and how did you arrive at that decision?
Deciding to teach and research at the University of Illinois. We have been here 10 years, and we love it. It is an outstanding academic institution; the chemistry department attracts the very best students from all around the world, and Champaign has been a great place to raise a family.
Do you have a bad habit? What is it?
I've been told that I am a bad driver.
How do you handle a stressful situation?
I have found that family helps put everything in perspective, and being able to go home to Dianne and the kids helps me forget day-to-day troubles very quickly. Playing hoops is another great way to take my mind off things and relieve stress. It also makes me realize that I should not quit my day job.