Winship Herr on Motivating Forces Toward the Development of a Graduate School at CSHL
  Winship Herr     Biography    
Recorded: 09 Jul 2004

Okay, there was a political issue that was a motivating force, but they were a lot of other issues that were coming into play for allowing Cold Spring Harbor [to] really contemplate having its own graduate program. One, I think, that was very important was the expansion of laboratory research into neurobiology. I think Cold Spring Harbor Lab has always seen itself as an institutional—well, the sign outside on the roadway entering the lab says, “Research and Education in Molecular Biology and Genetics.” I personally would say, “Research and Education in the Biological Sciences,” I think it’s equal. If you look at its history it’s been a leader in many different facets of biology. I don’t think that Cold Spring Harbor Lab would ever have wanted a graduate program that limited itself to some subsection of the biological program, like a graduate program in genetics or a graduate program in molecular biology.

I think that the appearance of more biologists and the development of the neurobiology program at Cold Spring Harbor was very important in broadening the breadth of scientific research at the lab such that you could contemplate between the plant biologists—also at that time the bioinformatics that was developing, the genomics, the cancer program and then the neurobiology program—you really could contemplate a rather broad program in the biological sciences and develop that. I think that was also a very important thing that was coming into play. The lab was simply growing and could consider supporting a graduate program because you can’t have a graduate program where you have one or two students come a year. You have to have a certain size of a program to be able to handle it.

The political issue was simply with the town of Laurel Hollow—with the issue about when we wanted the daycare center. There was much back and forth about whether we were an educational institution and the feeling was if we granted degrees—or at least they said we didn’t grant degrees—how could we be an educational institution. I think if that had been the only thing, we would have not had a graduate school. I think it was also that it was the right time in the development of Cold Spring Harbor, and that this interaction with Laurel Hollow served as a catalyst for it.

But I think probably the most important thing was not about Cold Spring Harbor, but actually had to do with the research institution that had been established just down the road on 25A at North Shore Medical Hospital called the Picower Institute. The reason that they were so important—although they were really a flash in the pan because they are no longer there—but the reason they were so important was that the director of the Picower Institute has been the dean of graduate studies at Rockefeller. And he, I assume, I never met the man—Tony Cerami was his name—he actually didn’t last at the institute that long. He had developed contacts with the state education department. Whatever it was, he was able to get a PhD program for the Picower Institute to trainer M.D.’s, people who already had an M.D.degree a PhD. Through that they basically served as a role model for how one could establish a graduate program at a research institution, which didn’t have a huge library or didn’t have many of the things that you expect at universities. With that in mind, in fact, I went to the Picower Institute and spoke to one of the people very much involved in the development of the program there. The last name was [Gloria] Lee and unfortunately I can’t remember her first name. But she had been a graduate student at Rockefeller. She gave me the application. She gave me a copy of their application and told me the kinds of things that were very important in their being able to get a graduate program. So unlike other times when we had received mountains of paper that had to be filled in, that seemed daunting, now we had a model for how to establish a graduate school.

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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