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Research Roundup: Values

Monday, October 22, 2018

Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a presentation at the URBEST retreat, entitled “Mentoring Lessons: What my students have taught me”. It was a Pecha Kucha style talk - 20 slides, 20 seconds each; a little over 6 minutes total.

My ratio of prep time to presentation time was frightening.  But the process of constructing the talk was incredibly rewarding, because it forced me to reflect on the moments when my students have shown me - through their words and actions - what matters most.  

I’m referring to those moments when others teach us something important about ourselves, about our interconnectedness, and even about the workplace culture we aspire to create around us.  We’ve all experienced moments like these.  Moments that, even years later, can still inspire tears and feelings of deep gratitude.  

As I was putting my slides together, I got to thinking about Tony Broyld - who I first met as a middle schooler at Clara Barton School #2 in the City of Rochester.  He's now a Systems Engineer in his early 30s with two M.S. degrees from the University of Rochester and living in the greater New York City area. He is also the first member of his family to go to college.  Someone in whose life I was fortunate enough to make a real and profound difference and also someone who taught me a great deal about resilience.

If he were the only student who taught me something important about values, about what matters, this would be a short column. But of course, he wasn’t.

Almost every day, I find myself in awe of the people I’m privileged to work with.

Recently, I attended the annual picnic in my home department of Microbiology and Immunology. One of our students spoke to me about her journey to graduate school. How the kindness of a single mentor changed the course of her life, made her believe in herself, helped her see a different future, and brought her here to Rochester. 

She spoke also about her father and how he will spend the rest of his life in jail, a measure of how far her life has traveled from the path that it might otherwise have gone down.

She spoke from a place of love and appreciation - and left me feeling intensely honored to be a part of her education.

There are hundreds of stories like hers at our Medical center from people whose lives have been transformed by the power of their own courage and by the drive of their imagination and curiosity.  By their desire to learn, by this life in science that we share, and by the values that we talk about -- but don’t always appreciate or fully understand – until we see them up close and personal.

Research Roundup: The Loneliness of Grant Writing

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research

Almost all of us, as researchers, spend a good deal of our time thinking about grant proposals.  That’s because grant funding gives us the means to explore our ideas, and to do the things we think are important.

We also all recognize that most grant applications will be rejected by the funding agencies to which we submit them.  So we become creatures of persistence.

What’s discussed less often, is the actual experience of grant writing. 

Its something we all do: at our desks, in coffee shops, at the kitchen table; wherever we can find a space for our laptop.  But we don’t often talk about how it feels.

There’s a strong sense of stepping out of your normal life.  For me - and I don’t think I’m unusual in this - it involves withdrawing from many of the other things I would normally do.  Not only professionally, but also family obligations and social interactions.  

This column, for example, was due a week ago.  But I deferred it, because I had a grant deadline yesterday.

Grant writing requires us to focus our thoughts to such an extent that we can sink into them; to become fully immersed.   The experience is intense, and it is also both lonely and isolating. 

That’s because the process of writing a grant is an exercise in disconnection.  An intentional unplugging.   

When I’m writing a grant, I often feel very distant from the people around me.  It’s as if they’re behind glass - because my mind is somewhere else entirely.  And then I’ll find myself alone in a quiet house, in the middle of the night, with nothing but my own thoughts for company.  Struggling to find the right words.  

What makes this more bearable is remembering why we’re asking for the money - what we plan to do with it - and knowing also that this is a shared experience, common to all academic scientists.  It’s a part of the life we choose.  

Those late nights, those doubts, those uncertainties - we’ve all been there.  It’s one of the things that bond us together. 

So I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the hundreds of researchers at the medical center who are engaged in grant writing on any given day.  It’s their efforts that make the URMC’s research enterprise possible, and that make this a special place where discoveries happen every day.

New Frontiers in Research

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research

One of the great pleasures of serving as Vice Dean for Research is the opportunity to learn about - and share - the cutting edge research that's being done here at the Medical Center.  I've recently spoken with alumni, trustees and friends of the University across the country, as well as to key partners (and potential partners) for our new Empire Discovery Institute.  Each time, it's been tremendous fun to have colleagues explain to me the science that most excites them - and to then watch how it resonates with diverse audiences.

Today, I'm starting a new column that's intended to share some of the stories, breakthroughs and discoveries that are being made by the 3,000 researchers who work here.

In diverse fields, ranging from neuroscience, to cancer immunotherapy, to musculoskeletal research, to RNA biology, and immunology and infectious disease, Medical Center researchers are at the forefront of their fields.  For example: our basic scientists are unraveling the fundamental processes that regulate RNA metabolism and the trafficking of immune cells through tissue, while our Center for Health and Technology (CHeT) is working to enable anyone anywhere to receive care, participate in research, and benefit from resulting advances. 

Another area of remarkable strength is in augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR).  Multi-disciplinary teams spanning computer science, engineering, neuroscience, ophthalmology and visual sciences are creating complex virtual environments that will enable us to better understand how the brain integrates sensory data, and how that can be used to treat a wide range of neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions. 

In the coming months, I hope to go into greater depth about these and other advances - and to share details of how Medical Center researchers are advancing our understanding of fundamental biological processes, translating discoveries into new treatments, and leading the way in improving clinical and population-level care.

Andrew Cox Receives US Patent

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cox

Andrew Cox

MD/PhD student, Andrew Cox has been awarded a patent, "Attenuated Influenza Vaccines and Uses Thereof" (9,787,032), for a new live flu vaccine that is safer than the current one so should permit higher dose administration to overcome the current problems with the live vaccine.

When not in medical school, Andrew is currently pursuing his degree in the Dewhurst lab, working on temperature sensitivity of Influenza polymerase as a determinant of pathogenicity.

Congratulations Andrew!