Winship Herr on The Interview Process and the Acceptance Criteria
  Winship Herr     Biography    
Recorded: 09 Jul 2004

Well, very few people talked to all the students, all the applicants. There were 9 people on the admissions committee. I was chair of the first admissions committee. Leemor Joshua-Tor, Nouria Hernandez. Bill Tansey and Michael Hengartner were not official members, but they participated because they were in charge of the two main core courses. David Jackson. They [Jim Watson and Bruce Stillman] were not on the admissions committee but they really participated with the interviewing. Lincoln Stein was, I think, the second year. Jeez, I don’t know who was the bioinformatics person and the neurobiology. Oh, Jerry Yin was at the beginning. Ah, Shiv Grewal was. I’m not sure about Greg Hannon. Anyway, you know, people have changed.

Everybody looks at different things. I tend to emphasize more grades. I’m not a big believer on the GRE tests. Some people don’t like to depend on grades or GRE’s. You know, the quality of the school, the quality of the letter of recommendations are extremely important. Also it was very important for me what they wrote about themselves because actually in the first years, we needed students who would be dedicated to the principles that we were espousing, so they had to be dedicated to the four-year program, for example. I mean, what was the use in trying to develop a four-year program if you recruited students who want to spend 6 years in graduate school. So, they had to say, you know, I really want to get through graduate school and move on with my life. And we would ask that. We would say in the application that they have to write why do you want to come to the Watson School. They would say things and often they would say that I want to get my degree in a shorter period of time.

We would have debates and people, you know, had different feelings and different criteria. That’s the beauty of having a committee. I mean, Jim always felt that there shouldn’t be an admissions committee. It should just be—I mean, I guess, he often would say, you know, that I should just select them. But, I think, in the end probably he felt he should just select them. Maybe he would have done just as well as the committee, what do I know.

But for me, the importance of the committee was not in how good the selection process would be. The importance of the committee and the importance of people talking to the students as they came through and giving their opinions was to get the faculty engaged to get them to have a stake in the success of the school. If it was going to be just one person selecting the students then the faculty would have no responsibility for whether they turned out okay or not. Whereas if they were engaged and they were involved in the process, then if there were problems we could go and say, well, you know, we have got to do something about this and they couldn’t say, well, we don’t care. I wasn’t involved in choosing them. I always felt that it was important to get the faculty involved, so then later on they would take responsibility for what happened.

Winship Herr, director of the University of Lausanne School of Biology and member of EMBO. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of California in 1974 and Ph.D. for studies on recombinant retroviruses in leukemogenic mice with Walter Gilbert from Harvard University in 1982. He completed his postdoctoral research studies in Cambridge (England) with Frederick Sanger and with Joe Sambrook in Cold Spring Harbor. After that he joined the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory faculty in 1984. From 1994 till 2002 he was an assistant director of the Laboratory and founding dean of the Watson School of Biological Sciences from 1998 till 2004. He is a professor of the Center for Integrative Genomics at the University of Lausanne.

Winship Herr is a former National Science Foundation predoctoral fellow, Rita Allen Foundation Scholar, Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellow, and Lita Annenberg Hazen Professor of Biological Sciences.

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