After finishing her MIT PhD in 2007, Megan McBee ’02 stayed on as a postdoctoral associate in David Schauer’s lab. She was having trouble deciding what she wanted to do next, and debating whether she wanted to pursue an academic career.
Finally Schauer told her, in his usual gentle way, “You need to move on, Megan. There’s nothing more I have to teach you.” Soon after, McBee realized the reason she didn’t want to leave MIT was her fond attachment to Schauer’s lab, which she called her “academic family.”
That academic family gathered Friday afternoon, along with many members of Schauer’s actual family, for a symposium to celebrate his life and many contributions to MIT. Schauer, a professor in MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering and Division of Comparative Medicine, died on June 7 at the age of 48 after a sudden illness.
Speakers from every stage of Schauer’s academic life recalled a youthful and eager scientist with a constant smile and a devotion to scientific rigor. His scientific career was devoted to studying disease-causing microbes, but his impact also extended to MIT’s curriculum, where he was committed to creating the best possible education for students, said Douglas Lauffenburger, head of MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering.
As one of the first faculty members in that department, Schauer proved to be a “voice of integration and unity” that was vital to the department’s merging of engineers and scientists, Lauffenburger said. “He was universally loved, and that’s not a trivial statement — especially in academia.”
Colleagues often sought out Schauer not only to soothe the friction that can often arise in academic departments, but also for his wise counsel. “Even now, when complicated issues come up, I think, ‘what would David do, what would he say about this?’” said MIT biology professor Alan Grossman, who worked with Schauer to set up a new graduate program in microbiology.
Professor Peter Dedon, who planned the symposium with James Fox and Steve Tannenbaum, declared at the outset that it was “a happy event,” devoted to a celebration of Schauer’s life and carrying on his legacy.
“Just as I hear myself channeling my parents when I talk to my own kids, when I talk to my own graduate students and postdocs I realize I’m channeling David,” said Vincent Young ’85, an assistant professor at University of Michigan Medical School, who was Schauer’s first postdoc at MIT.
And McBee, who recalled that she was so nervous before asking Schauer if she could work in his lab that she downed a grande quadruple iced Americano to fortify herself for the meeting, said she is devoted to passing on what she has learned from her adviser.
“He was my academic father, and I am going to try to be a mentor to other students the way he was to me,” McBee said.