Dr. James Marcum

March 2009

Faculty Feature

Dr. James Marcum

In the mind of Dr. James Marcum, Director of Baylor's Medical Humanities program, undergraduate students "can't afford to not do research." With thirteen advised theses behind him and four more in the works this spring, Dr. Marcum speaks from extensive experience when he asserts that students must establish a pattern of inquisitive and critical thinking in order to succeed in their post-graduate work and in their careers.

Dr. Marcum advocates an integrated educational philosophy in which professors incorporate teaching and research. Isolation of either of these elements, he says, results in a "truncated educational process."

Dr. Marcum's personal interest in researching the philosophy and history of medicine and science overflows into the junior and senior-level courses he teaches throughout the school year. In all of these courses, students read Dr. Marcum's writings, such as An Introductory Philosophy of Medicine, which he wrote in response to the absence of a satisfactory text on the discipline. "I research to teach, and I teach to research," he says, summarizing his educational ideology. In addition, Dr. Marcum is currently working on a book exploring the "virtuous physician," a concept which ties into his involvement with the medical humanities program.

Perhaps Dr. Marcum's most important contribution to the encouragement of undergraduate research is his role as a thesis advisor. According to Dr. Marcum, "[he] get[s] the benefit" because "[he] learn[s] a lot more" throughout the thesis process. However, the students whose theses Dr. Marcum advises certainly profit from the collaboration, such as in the case of Rachel Suter, whose 2007 Honors thesis titled "The Reductionistic and Organicistic View of Carcinogenesis" appeared in part in a coauthored article, "The molecular genetics of breast cancer and targeted therapy," as well as a collaborative book review.

Dr. Marcum's routine of research-minded scholarship began during his high school years, which were tinged by the nationwide support of the sciences in response to the Russian launch of Sputnik and other events of the Cold War. While in high school, he received research funding from the National Science Foundation's Student Science Training Program (SSTP). It was during this time that Dr. Marcum first began to enjoy research, and he points to the experience as a "major factor in pursuing a life of research." Science was the clear choice for Dr. Marcum, and he earned both a B.S.Ed. in Biology and a M.S. in Zoology from Miami University in Oxford, OH.

However, during his graduate work, Dr. Marcum began to read books such as The Last Temptation of Christ and The Magic Mountain, as well as many existential writings. The ideas he encountered, and additional personal experiences, challenged his strict worldview of scientism and began to "sow the seeds for something other than science."

That ambiguous something would elude Dr. Marcum for a while, and in the meantime, he earned a M.A.T.S. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Physiology from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Finally, during his post-doctoral work at Harvard and MIT, a roommate with a background in philosophy lent him Thomas Kuhn's Structures of Scientific Revolution. After reading the book and taking a course taught by Kuhn, Dr. Marcum's interest in philosophy was irreversibly ignited, and he subsequently earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston College.

The most important thing that any student or professor can do, Dr. Marcum argues, is to live an inquisitive life, always researching, whether formally or informally. For him, life is one grand research project, and he incorporates this philosophy in both the teaching and research dimensions of his work. This passion undoubtedly extends to his students, whom he inspires to ask questions both metaphysical and technical in order to examine and better understand their world.