Winship Herr on Winship Herr, Involvement in the Development of the Watson School of Biological Sciences (WSBS)
  Winship Herr     Biography    
Recorded: 09 Jul 2004

The way I got involved—being assistant director at the time—I was sitting on the outside of the room, on the side of the room at the trustees meeting. You’ve been at trustees meetings. All the trustees are sitting around the big table and we sit around the side. You know, we keep quiet and observe.

Jim said, as he was giving these four visions he had for 2000, he was saying who should be in charge of them. When he got to the graduate school, he said he thought that Winship Herr should be in charge of a committee along with two new trustees that were there, Whitney Pidot and Lola Grace to look into the possibility of a graduate school.

Now one of Jim Watson’s great strengths, and there are many, I think, is that he is able to suss out what makes people tick. It probably was not hard to realize that I would be very interested in the issue of graduate education and a graduate school at Cold Spring Harbor because I had been involved very much with graduate programs at Stony Brook. I had many graduate students in my lab. I was on committees for graduate students. I, in those days, would do twenty or thirty trips a year to Stony Brook for various things. I was even at the time, the director of the admissions committee for the genetics program. In identifying me, he identified someone that would be really interested in this. I think that I was, of course, it will be forever [that I will] remember at that trustees meeting sitting on the side of the room and Jim’s suggestion that I head a committee for this.

A very important point. What I do want to say just in closing before we change is that committee with Whit Pidot and Lola Grace never met.

I don’t remember precisely. I suspect I did what I usually do is that I went up to Jim and I thanked him. I have to say that in November 1995, we were just getting ready to go in for the large DNA tumor virus grant that I was in charge of. It was my first time shepherding it through a renewal and I was completely consumed by that for the next eight months. So, in fact, not that much happened over the next eight months. It wasn’t until June of 1997 that the trustees Okayed moving forward with the graduate school. At the time, I knew nothing about the Picower Institute, so I had to find that out. Gloria Lee I believe was the dean’s name. I had to discuss—I mean I’d have to go through my records to see—I know that not much happened. I remember very vividly there was a May trustee meeting, an executive committee meeting, so these were the smaller ones that meet in-between the big meetings of February, June and November. It was a May meeting and Bruce was out of town. He asked me in my role as assistant director to sit in. David Luke asked me to give a report about the graduate school and basically I said a few things, but it was clear that he was very disappointed with the progress. He said, well, we can’t go to the trustees with this at the June meeting. I remember having felt that I was broadsided because I hadn’t expected to have to talk about the graduate school in such a bad time.

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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