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David L. Pauls, Ph.D.

This article, written by Nicole Linder, was originally published in Pacific, June 2003.

Pacific influences David Pauls' scientific career & personal life

Many people hope to help others--a handful have a gift that guides generations.

As scientist, teacher and author, David Pauls is one of that handful. Among the most well-known researchers on the genetics of child neuropsychiatric disorders, Pauls directs the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard University. He heads a team of 30 professionals researching the neurogenetics of Tourette's syndrome, attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, autism, specific reading disability (dyslexia) and bipolar affective disorder. The goal is to learn more about genes that affect these disorders and the development of children.

For Pauls the journey of learning is one of a lifetime. After receiving Bachelor of Arts degrees in natural science and mathematics from Pacific College in 1966, the same year older brother, Adonijah earned his in social science and history, David Pauls went on to a doctorate in genetics and cell biology from the University of Minnesota. He then returned to Pacific from 1971-1977 to teach biology, genetics, statistics, biochemistry and mathematics.

Recruited by Yale University, Pauls spent 20 years in the Child Study Center as professor of psychiatric and neurobehavioral genetics before going to the newly created position at Massachusetts General in 2001. Over the course of his career he has made many presentations and written hundreds of articles and book chapters.

His children also followed in his footsteps of higher education and research. Son Scott is a professor of mathematics at Dartmouth College. Jonathan "Jed" is completing is master of arts degree in education at the University of Vermont and teaching science and mathematics at a school for adolescents with severe emotional and psychiatric problems.

Pauls' decision to attend Pacific College was easy. "I was the youngest of 10 children in a Mennonite Brethren family from just outside Dallas, Oregon. My parents gave me the option of going to Tabor College or Pacific College. My brothers and sisters chose Pacific College, so I knew about the school," he said. Indeed, it was a rare year in the 1950's and 60's when a Pauls was not a Pacific Bible Institute/Pacific College. In addition to David and Adonijah, who also graduated from PBI in 1959, there were Melvin (PBI '52), Vernon (PBI '53) and Deloris (PBI '60).

David Pauls said the deciding factor for him was that he thought, "California would be a much better place to live than Kansas."

Fond memories include the summer he and Roy Klassen, now FPU choir director and music faculty, dug a ditch for electrical conduit from Sattler Hall to Hiebert Library. Pauls also appreciates the opportunities Pacific provided to be involved in activities beyond academics that might have been out of reach at a larger institution. He was a member of the basketball team for three years and student body president his junior year.

Dan Isaak, biology professor, and Arthur Wiebe, mathematics professor and Pacific president, were particularly influential. Isaak introduced Pauls to genetics and taught him to be curious. Wiebe first challenged him to do research. "He would present mathematical problems with no known solution and encourage the class to figure it out," Pauls said. Both inspired Pauls to go on to graduate school.

Pacific's influence on Pauls did not end with choosing a professional path. Instead, it persisted beyond graduate school to permeate his life. "I have tried to follow the principle espoused by the early Anabaptists that it was not appropriate to use force and coercion to achieve one's goals in life. Usually, pacifism is thought about only in terms of being against war. For me, it means more than that. For me it means when I interact with people in my life I make every effort to live and work in peace with them. If that is not possible, then it is important to treat them with respect and justice."