GSBS panel reflects on ‘why people come here’

A history lesson in celebration of American Archives Month

By Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

October 19, 2011

  

When a panel of researchers from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences got together to reflect on the school’s history, a common theme emerged: prospective students and faculty members alike are drawn to the unique spirit of collaboration that defines the GSBS environment. The group gathered before an audience of alumni, current students, faculty and other members of the UMass Medical School community in celebration of American Archives Month.

Sponsored by the Lamar Soutter Library Office of Medical History and Archives, the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations and the GSBS, the panel discussion Look How Far We’ve Come (and How We Got Started) provided an opportunity for founding members of the GSBS and their contemporary colleagues and notable alumni to reflect on the founding of the GSBS, highlight current achievements and look toward its strong future. The discussion was moderated by Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor of Medicine, executive deputy chancellor, provost, and dean of the School of Medicine.

   
Panelists

Anthony Carruthers, PhD, Current GSBS dean Professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology

George Wright, PhD founding dean of graduate studies President of GLSynthesis, Inc. Adjunct professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology

Tom Miller, PhD founding dean of GSBS Professor emeritus of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology

John Sullivan, MD, Current vice provost for research Director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science Professor of pediatrics, microbiology & physiological systems and pathology

Ray Welsh, PhD Academic mentor to first and 500th GSBS Professor of pathology

Jack Bukowski, PhD, MD First GSBS graduate (1984) Chief scientific research officer at the Nutritional Science Research Institute

Susan C. Schiavi, PhD First out-of-state GSBS graduate (1989) Senior scientific director of bone and mineral research at Genzyme Corporation (Now part of Sanofi)

While the GSBS was officially founded 25 years ago, it traces its roots back to 1978 with the establishment of the doctorate of medical sciences program. At the time, George E. Wright, PhD, was a professor of pharmacology and was asked to chair the committee studying the creation of a graduate program. Once the program was approved, he was named the founding dean.

The graduate program grew out of the basic science faculty and infrastructure already in place at the Medical School. Dr. Wright recruited graduate directors from within the existing basic science departments and formed the first Graduate Council, which developed the curriculum and served as the oversight body for the new program. Seven students entered the graduate program in the inaugural class in 1979. Wright served as dean until 1984, when he returned to teaching and research full time.

Wright was succeeded by Thomas B. Miller, PhD, now professor emeritus of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, who became the graduate program’s second dean. Dr. Miller led a two-year effort that culminated in the establishment of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, operating with its own governance structure. Having the GSBS as a separate school helped raise its profile and made it easier to recruit top students, Miller said. He served as dean until his retirement in 2002; over those 18 years, he saw the GSBS grow from a student body of 37 to more than 200.

Current Dean Anthony Carruthers, PhD, took over leadership from Miller in 2002 and has overseen tremendous growth in the number and quality of students, the number of faculty and the amount of funded research. “I inherited the product of the hard work of the faculty and students,” said Dr. Carruthers in response to Dr. Flotte’s request to reflect on the evolution of the GSBS. He listed a number of milestones that have recently been passed, among them publication of the 2,000th paper by the student body, awarding of the 500th PhD (to Mina Seedhom in 2011) and significantly reduced attrition rates for students.

In addition to the current and former deans, the panel included Raymond Welsh, PhD, professor of pathology and microbiology & physiological systems, who had the singular distinction of serving as mentor to both the first and the 500th GSBS graduate. Jack Bukowski, who earned that first PhD in 1984, was also on the panel. (He went on to receive a medical degree here in 1989.) Dr. Buckowski and Dr. Welsh published four articles together between 1984 and 1986 on natural killer cells. When asked by Flotte about his decision to pursue his degree at the fledgling program, Bukowski said he was less concerned about the youth of the program than excited by the quality of the investigators, saying, “I felt lucky to be here.”

John Sullivan, provost of research and director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science expressed a similar sentiment, saying that as a young physician-scientist, he felt lucky to come to UMMS when he did in 1978 because of the “supportive environment for a clinician doing bench research.”

Panelist Susan Schiavi, PhD ’89, was the first out-of-state graduate and is currently a senior science director at Genzyme/Sanofi. She shared the humorous story of her discovery of the existence of the GSBS. When she applied to graduate school, she thought she was applying to study in Michael Czech’s lab at Brown University. When she discovered that he was now at UMass Medical School, she was initially taken aback, but after visiting, she felt reassured enough to enroll here.

During the audience question-and-answer session that concluded the program, a current student expressed concern about how the expected rapid growth of the GSBS might negatively affect the environment that makes it so special. Carruthers responded that he was not concerned because “scientific and intellectual interaction is a hallmark of the school and students and faculty sense that immediately.” Dr. Sullivan added that the core value of collaboration “is why people come here.”

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