Gatepost Interview: Assistant Professor Michael Block

[Erin Fitzmaurice]

By Jilian Poland

Staff Writer

What is your educational

I grew up in the U.K. So, I went to Edinburgh University and got a degree in chemistry there and I moved to Cambridge in England to get a Ph.D. in chemistry. I came over to the states and went to Brown University for two years to do a post-doctorate.

Why did you move to the
United States?

It’s one of the places that’s at the forefront of chemistry and it was an opportunity to travel to a different country and experience a different culture. So, that’s what drove me over here in the first place.

What made you decide to
teach chemistry?

I haven’t been a teacher for most of my life. It was something that I thought about when I was at university, but I ended up going into industry. So when I went back from the states, I joined a pharmaceutical company that used to be called ICI Pharmaceuticals. Then it became Zeneca. Then it became AstraZeneca. I worked for them for the best part of 25 years and then teaching came later than that.

What brought you to FSU?

In 2012, I was working at AstraZeneca in Boston – and the previous 10 years in Boston – and my group got downsized and my job disappeared. I was laid off from AstraZeneca at that point and my wife and I decided we would buy a boat. We bought a boat and spent a year living aboard the boat, travelling the East Coast, sailing and trying to figure out what we would do for the rest of our working lives. When we came back, I started to look for opportunities to teach, and a job came up in Framingham State. I started off teaching labs initially, and then some lecture courses in the last year.

What has been your most
memorable experience at FSU?

I think I really enjoy teaching the lecture courses as well as the labs. The labs are fun – and I really like the practical aspects of those – but you see a different insight to the course when you teach both the lecture and the labs. So for me, teaching organic chemistry, which is what I’m doing now, has been the highlight.

What was your most memorable experience from when you were an undergrad?

Well, this is sort of amusing, but when I started as a student in chemistry, the very first course that I took in chemistry was quantum mechanics. I guess it was a terrifying experience. I wasn’t very well prepared for it. I didn’t feel at that time, but I managed to get through it OK.

Why did you choose chemistry?

I have to be honest and say part of it was my father was a chemist – he was a physical chemist – so it was perhaps an area that I had some familiarity with. But I enjoyed it in high school. In England, you specialize quite young, so at the age of 16, I had already focused down on three subjects. I did chemistry, physics and maths with my final two years of high school. I really enjoyed the chemistry, that’s why I ended up going into chemistry.

What’s something your
students would be surprised
to learn about you?

I have a photography business. I’ve always been interested in photography. That’s something I set up after I left the pharmaceutical industry. I also have a captain’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard, and my wife and I ran a sailing business up in Maine for two summers on our boat.

What is one book you think every student, regardless of major, should read?

I mean I have novels that are really great but one of the best novels is “Cutting for Stone.” It’s an excellent novel. … Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Teams of Rivals” is a fantastic biography of Abraham Lincoln and a commentary on his leadership style.

What advice would you give
FSU students?

I think that if you can figure out what you really want and work hard to get it, that’s the recipe for success. It’s not easy to figure out what you want. The world’s an opportunity. You shouldn’t ever think that you’re locked into one thing. There’s always different directions you can go in and that’s about my third piece of advice. But you don’t know where your life is going to take you. You have some idea as a student where you think you’d like to go, but you really have no idea how things will transpire. It’ll be full of all sorts of exciting and good things that you don’t anticipate as well as some bad things you might not anticipate. But don’t ever feel like you’re locked in. You can always figure different ways to go.