Johnathan Tune, PhD, is a name that is well-known and loved among first- and second-year graduate students. Following one of his lectures, it is not unusual to hear the phrase, “Dr. Tune for Class President,” from his students.
Dr. Tune’s office is a statement of his passion for learning and his appreciation of personal triumph and joys. On display in his office are photos of his children, a healthy portion of their artwork, and wall of fame showing dissertation announcements for his past graduate students. He happily gave me a brief history of various objects around the room with the same openness with which he gives lectures.
Most notably, he points out a grayscale photo of a man grinning charismatically in his air force uniform. “That’s my dad,” he says proudly “he’s always here with me.” This level of openness and genuine care for people and all that they bring into science is precisely what has earned him such high acclaim among medical and graduate students alike.
Role at IU
As a Professor of Cellular and Integrative Physiology, a researcher, and an educator at IU School of Medicine, Dr. Tune is very involved with activities that go beyond his well-decorated office. Teaching medical students is of particular interest to Dr. Tune, who leads a number of dynamic physiology lectures He and his students enjoy his lectures that combine relevant information with lighthearted presentation. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching,” he says, noting that when students are eager to learn, it is hard not to get excited as a teacher.
An undergraduate education at University of North Texas, graduate school at Fort Worth, and a post-doc University of Washington in Seattle, makes Dr. Tune a very well-traveled and broadly trained scientist. After completing his post-doc, Dr. Tune and his family moved to New Orleans to establish a lab at LSU and continue his research career. Following Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Tune and his family were recruited to IU School of Medicine, where he has steadily grown his lab and shaped the physiology department for the past 13 years.
Code Word: Collaboration
During his time at IU, Dr. Tune has seen the faculty grow and change with the focus on precision medicine growing over time. He notes that new faculty are clinical researchers that bring clinical and basic science together with a translational perspective. However, he points to a steady backbone that has kept him at IU and seems to draw new researchers to the school: collaboration.
“The big thing for me is the collaboration with both basic science and clinicians. It’s been a huge and very supportive environment,” he says of the IU research community, “it’s a lot of fun.” This open attitude toward teamwork helps Dr. Tune to put science first and has lead to a number of lucrative collaborations, especially with Dr. Sturek, who’s office is just one floor away.
The Sturek-Tune collaboration is somewhat famous in the physiology department, as the labs make use of the Ossabaw pig model. These pigs, with their high propensity for obesity in a state of excess, are an excellent model for cardiovascular disease in the Tune lab. Taking a page from the clinical researchers in the physiology department, Dr. Tune keeps his lab focused on translational research, aiming for ways to help patients and improve understanding simultaneously.
Tune Lab Dynamics
Dr. Tune notes that his interactions with his lab focus on mentorship and guidance. “I have an open-door policy,” he says, pointing to the currently open door, “I have one of the only offices without a window, but that doesn’t matter since the door is always open.” He enjoys taking a hands-on approach in lab, interacting regularly with students to answer their questions and build their research skills.
The mentorship that Dr. Tune offers his students has created an air of excellence in Tune lab, resulting in consistent and high-quality data output. This quality extends to his students, who have been highly successful during their graduate years and moved on to excellent careers.
“At the end of all of this, you learn how to think and how to solve problems. And that can take you lots of different places,” he says, of the atmosphere in the Tune lab.
The Role of the MD/PhD
With his background in translational research and his experience training MD/PhD students, Dr. Tune offers a helpful perspective for the role of physician scientists in research today. “They play a huge role, because their questions inform basic science moving forward,” he says, pointing out that the potential for research to address a clinical question is a good thing. Basic science that is informed by clinical outlook becomes a functional tool to help patients in a relevant way.
Going on to address some challenges for physician scientists, Dr. Tune states that the most important thing is balancing clinical practice and research. “Finding that balance is a very important aspect you’ll have to figure out,” he says. With every career comes its own challenges to balance, and as a physician scientist, you introduce a whole other aspect: “You don’t just have the research/home balance, you have the clinic/research/home challenge, it’s trickier.”
Words of Wisdom
Dr. Tune offers advice for success with the same jovial attitude that he has had telling me about his family vacations.
“First and foremost is the intangible ‘fire in the belly’ interest for the research,” he says. “Find that research, that part of medicine, that interests you most. The thing that lights that fire in your belly. Then doing that work every day isn’t work, it’s something you’re passionate about.”
Dr. Tune embodies passion for research and freely shares it with anyone who walks into his office. Relaxed but dedicated, he continues to push his students toward their best work, eager to see his enthusiasm reflected by his team. Ultimately, his ongoing commitment to science, balanced with his respect for the personal history that everyone carries, has made him an invaluable member of the IU School of Medicine community.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.