Scientifically, his achievements speak for themselves (discovering a fundamental immunological signaling molecule was just the beginning of his illustrious career), and the unique insight I’ve gotten from working in his lab is that no one thinks like he does. Using his staggering knowledge base (for instance, he’ll casually recite arcane gene sequences), he implements a startling level of creativity to understanding the immune system. Joking that no one in his lab actually does immunology, Ruslan applies fundamental principles from other fields of study (like linguistics) to the immune system. I’ve sat open-mouthed through numerous lab meetings, awed at each person’s project for its relevance to human health, elegant complexity, and unique perspective on old enigmas.
I’ve never met a manager as thoughtful in building and maintaining lab culture. Many academics are known to be scattered, detached from their labs, or chronically late. Ruslan is none of those. Not only is he highly organized (in December 2015, my meetings with him were scheduled for the entirety of 2016), but also he is always on time and fully present wherever he is. He bestows undivided attention to whomever is speaking, whether it is an undergraduate struggling to pronounce chemical names, an administrative assistant, or a lab member challenging a long-standing belief of his, and he humbly provides useful and informative responses. Despite his enormous volume of requests (not only does he teach at Yale and run a very large lab, but also he’s a cofounder for the hottest microbiome company and is literally rewriting the textbook on immunology), he does not scan through his email during meetings, even when the meetings are boring. He will entertain any thought or idea and spend as much time is needed to convey points and make sure each person is heard.
I was instantly impressed the first time I walked into Ruslan’s office, which was remarkably tidy without feeling obsessive or sterile. He efficiently displays his love of his family through a few, high-quality photographs and fantastical drawings by his young daughters. His hospitality is immediately present as he offers you a glass of water or fresh espresso. No piles of paper sag on his desk, no folders are jammed into book shelves. A small fraction of his awards hang on his walls, and as you quickly dive into an exhilaratingly innovative discussion, he draws schematics, schematics he must have drawn a thousand times for various audiences, with extraordinary patience and enthusiasm. He only uses one type of pen (like many of his belongings, it is understated and high-quality), which I find to be an underrated efficiency hack to ensure that one always has a fine writing instrument. He will casually reference some of his impressive connections, revealing his penchant to sustain great relationships over decades. He speaks not with the conviction that one may expect from an undisputed leader in the field, but with a remarkable curiosity and humility.
Ruslan truly, truly loves science. He’ll pop into the lab, not to make sure students are working (well, maybe a little bit…), but to participate in experiments. He truly cares about enhancing the experiences of his lab members, suggesting outings and monthly happy hours, just for fun, and you’ll find him drinking beer and quoting Zoolander, laughing along with his team. His lab is the most sociable and fun one that I’ve experienced, and each lab member is intimidatingly brilliant and motivated.
Working in Ruslan’s lab, I’ve learned an incredible amount about physiology and best research practices, but even more about human nature. Scientists and managers like Ruslan give me faith in our efforts to understand health and disease, and he inspires me to be my best self as a scientist and global citizen.