Faculty Profile: Professor lives dream after career change

Dr. Eiger. photo by Karissa Erickson

Steven Eiger, Associate Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, wants to inspire ambitious pre-med students to reach their long-term academic goals.

To Eiger, this means developing classes that students actually want to take, such as his physiology class — the only physiology class in the country available to freshmen.

Another subject that students often like is medical ethics, which Eiger enjoys teaching and emphasizes in his senior capstone course. He believes teachers need to have fun while still pushing their students to be better.

“Testing is the only part of the job I do not like,” he said.

Eiger wasn’t interested in becoming a professor until later in his life. He grew up in Puerto Rico, where he went to elementary and high school before moving to the United States to attend the University of Miami, eventually receiving a degree in architecture.

However, after a year as an architect, he decided to quit the profession and teach tennis for a living. He then became an unsuccessful semi-professional tennis player.

It wasn’t until he began giving lessons to a professor that he became fascinated with science.  Through these lessons and corresponding conversations, he realized science was his true passion, so he went to the University of Michigan to work on a Ph.D. in physiology.

For his doctorate research, Eiger studied molecules that regulate body temperature.  He has published a number of works on the subject since receiving his doctorate. Most of this research was conducted while he worked in California for both the University of California-Berkeley and San Francisco.  After moving to Montana, his focus shifted toward teaching and away from research.

Professor Eiger chose to move to Montana partly due to the outdoor community; he has practiced mountaineering and enjoys cross-country skiing in his free time.

But the main reason for the move, he said, is that Montana State University has the “best students.”  He attributes this to a sense of personal responsibility held by students at MSU, and explained that living in a smaller town and having a better sense of community creates this sense.

Eiger is also passionate about public education.  He believes that, through public education, students from both high and low-income backgrounds have equal opportunities to better themselves. He questions where he would be without the public education that gave him the opportunity to attend American universities and become a professor.