Thursday, January 13, 2011

SciMuse: Dr. David Kroll: scientist, musician, mensch

Dr. David Kroll is a man who wears many hats: researcher, professor, science blogger, and musician. His life seems to tie together all these separate parts into one cohesive theme of giving back to the community and enriching the lives of others.
Kroll grew up on a neighborhood perched on a hill that afforded a direct view of the Roche tower in Nutley, New Jersey. Growing up looking at the Roche tower every day lead him to take an interest in pharmacology and the drug industry. He went to college as a first generation student and majored in Toxicology at Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, following his dream of someday being able to help others by working in that same tower.
Throughout his career, Kroll kept in mind that knowledge can be used inclusively or exclusively. He wanted to use his knowledge of pharmacology to help regular people navigate the drugs that they were taking, but wasn’t very prepared for the discovery that science could be a profession so isolated from the public at large. He starting blogging as an outlet for his desire to educate the wider public on drugs, supplements, and pharmacology in general. Kroll recently celebrated his fifth year of blogging in December 2010, blogging for ScienceBlogs, the American Chemical Society’s CENtral Science, and for PLoS Blogs over the years.

The path of Kroll’s educational and musical career intersect at many points in his life. He started playing guitar at the age of fourteen as a way to escape being labeled as a “real dork in high school.” However, the release of The Police’s Outlandos D’Amour and Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp lead him to an appreciation of the bass, which he switched to a year after picking up the guitar. This step proved to be successful as he went on to play bass in his first band with his high school girlfriend, his high school friend, his guidance counselor, and his high school history teacher. Kroll cites his history teacher as being a huge influence on getting him interested in the history of social injustice and specifically the history of science. His first band played bars and clubs around town throughout Kroll’s high school years.

In college, he played mostly solo but would occasionally play with his old high school band while visiting home. Around the time he was finishing college, Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s “Southern Accents” was released and proved to be yet another pivotal album in his life. This Tom Petty album release was right around the time of his acceptance into a pharmacology doctorate program at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the hometown of the Heartbreakers. Tom Rowe, his advisor at UF, was supportive of a work/life balance, and this freedom allowed him to play in a U2 tribute band for two years in graduate school.

After finishing his Ph.D., he landed an offer for a postdoc position at Roche, the original setting of his dream of working in pharmacology. He was literally within days of accepting when he got offered a position at the University of Colorado in Denver. He ended up taking the position in Denver instead, where he worked on the transcriptional regulation of the CREB protein and a shortly afterward went on to land an Assistant Professor position in the School of Pharmacology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

The move to Denver proved to be fortuitous to his musical life as well. One day he was typing up an abstract in the main office of the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Diabetes at the Univ of Colorado Health Sciences Center when a endocrinology fellow walked in to answer a page for a gig he was playing later that evening. Kroll struck up a conversation, mentioning that he was a bass player, and got invited to jam with Dan Bessesen, and his bandmate, Jay Reusch, a cardiologist whose wife was also an endocrinology fellow. These jam sessions evolved into Dogs in the Yard, an adult alternative band that lasted for eleven years, from 1990 – 2001. They played gigs at the medical center, fundraisers, and even the endocrine department Christmas party. They released two CDs, one in 1997 entitled “Sunday Afternoon” and one in 2001, “Til the Summer Fades Away.” About eight years into the band, EMI called and offered them a move to LA to pursue the possibility of a record deal. But as all of the people in the band had work and family obligations, they decided to turn it down.

Eleven years is an ancient time in band years, but all good things must come to an end. Kroll left Dogs in the Yard after he met his now-wife at a cancer research conference in Colorado. She was a Duke oncology physician-scientist who lead him to doing a sabbatical at Duke that eventually lead to a job offer in the North Carolina Research Triangle at RTI International. Despite the loss of the band, he continued his musical career with other scientists, playing with Nick Oberlies, a chemistry postdoc, scientific collaborator at RTI, and DJ at Duke University station WXDU. He also played with Cole Guerra, a psychology graduate student at Duke who Kroll contacted after reading an article featuring him in the local Triangle Independent Weekly. Kroll joined his band on bass for shows at Cafe Driade and Local 506 in Chapel Hill. However, at RTI he missed the joy of teaching students and moved to take a professorship at North Carolina Central University in Durham.

Kroll has continued to keep in touch with music at NCCU, playing the annual Faculty Talent Show and working on solo projects. Lately, he’s been writing songs under his own name in preparation to record a solo album called “From Denver to Durham.” The namesake of his album comes from the fact that both cities have an interstate exit numbered 284 that leads to the international airport, a testament to the myriad levels of interconnectivity in both his scientific and musical career.

At the BlogTogether bash in Durham in October, he debuted a song called “Minister of the Ether” that pays tribute to Anton Zuiker in celebration of his 10th year of blogging and to all his work in the blogging community. Check out an exclusive video below of Kroll giving an acoustic performance of the song under the bull statue in Durham’s city center.

David Kroll - "Minister of the Ether" from Princess Ojiaku on Vimeo.


  1. Hey, somehow my last comment got eaten.

    In any case, here's a belated "Thank you SO much" for posting the results of your interview with me. I don't think even I have written a more complete biography of my musical path. You're great - I really appreciate the attention you gave.

    Also, THANK YOU for learning to play Anton's song via an e-mail exchange and playing it cold at the ScienceOnline open mic. THAT is the sign of a true musician. I hope that we have the chance to play together again soon. I covet your Fender bass!

  2. No prob! It both writing up this interview and playing with you at scio11 were both really fun! Thanks for asking me to play! Totally coveting your vintage bass amp.

  3. Kroll recently celebrated his fifth year of blogging in December 2010, blogging for ScienceBlogs, the American Chemical Society’s CENtral Science, and for PLoS Blogs over the years. music saves lives

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