From the Dean

Dean's letter to readers

These early months as dean of HMS have been filled with many firsts. It is especially meaningful to me that the theme of my inaugural issue of Harvard Medicine is connections.

I’m energized by the power that connection brings to our campus. It is central to the research conducted by our scientists; to the education provided to our medical, graduate, and postdoctoral students; and to the care provided by our clinicians. Fostering and advancing these associations among members of our community will be a priority for me.

Over the decades I have had the privilege of working with more than eighty graduate students, postdocs, and visiting scientists in my lab. Of those, nearly 80 percent now have their own trainees. Many have contributed research pivotal to the world’s knowledge base and are teaching or delivering compassionate care.

The connections we build with our trainees produce meaningful legacies. At the recent gathering that marked the start of my tenure, Eugene Koh ’03, the first graduate student I trained in my lab, attended as did dozens of my current postdocs and grad students. Also in attendance was Lloyd Axelrod ’67, one of my clinical mentors from Massachusetts General Hospital, and other professors who have influenced my career as a physician and a scientist.

This commitment to mentoring flourishes on our campus and has been amplified by changes to our curriculum. Third- and fourth-year students now have more time to focus on mentored scholarly projects.

This time is well used. Students have worked with our faculty to investigate the molecular underpinnings of neurodevelopmental disorders. They’ve launched programs to assist military veterans who suffer from PTSD and to support LGBT youth. They’ve founded student-faculty collaborative clinics and pioneered health policy initiatives to help communities rebuild after conflicts. Recently, research by Aswin Sekar ’16 led to a revolutionary theory on the genetic origins of schizophrenia. Based on the hundreds of emails to his mentor, Steve McCarroll, that news was welcomed by scientists and by families of those affected by the disease. These are reminders of how important it is to mentor our students: they advance science, they help patients, and they will, in turn, mentor those who follow them.

Our passion for discovery, teaching, and mentoring plays out in how we work together, learn from each other, and shape the future of our profession. In this issue of Harvard Medicine, we present some of the stories of how we connect and how our connections change the world. I look forward to sharing more stories with you in the years ahead.