Vol 10. Issue 17 /May 17, 2010
Scripps Research Celebrates 18th Commencement
By Mika Ono
On Friday, May 14, 2010, The Scripps Research Institute celebrated its 18th commencement, graduating 30 Ph.D. candidates and granting Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman, chair of the Scripps Research Department of Neurobiology, an honorary degree. In addition—in a surprise addition to the program—the first Norton B. Gilula Award for Faculty Excellence in Graduate Education was bestowed on Professor Ian Wilson.
The official ceremonies began with a winding march across the California campus. Led by Scripps Research President Richard Lerner, the regal procession included the Kellogg School of Science and Technology dean, honorary degree recipient, faculty advisors, graduating students, and fellow Kellogg School students and faculty members.
After the group arrived at the Neurosciences Institute Auditorium, Lerner offered welcoming remarks and Dean Jamie Williamson introduced the program, acknowledging the many people who made this occasion possible—from the hard-working students themselves to supportive family members and the faculty, staff, and administration of Scripps Research.
Williamson also remarked on the recent rankings of the Kellogg School by U.S. News & World Report, which continues to place the Kellogg School among the top ten graduate programs in the nation in both biology and chemistry and provides a testament to the scientific excellence of the Scripps Research faculty. In about five years of study, Kellogg School students attend classes, complete lab rotations, and work with an advisor to write a dissertation that offers an original contribution to their field.
"We require that each student challenge themselves to the utmost of their abilities," Williamson said. "The course of study is often long and difficult. So... I invite you to celebrate this day with great enthusiasm!"
Doing Something Right
Edelman, who is director of The Neurosciences Institute and president of Neurosciences Research Foundation in addition to his position at Scripps Research, stepped up to the lectern to give the keynote address.
Edelman's early studies focused on the structure and diversity of antibodies. His subsequent work led to the discovery of cell adhesion molecules, which have been found to guide fundamental processes by which an animal achieves its shape and form and by which nervous systems are built. He has also formulated a global brain theory, Neural Darwinism, to explain the development and mechanisms underlying higher brain functions. In 1972 he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the structure and function of antibodies.
In his commencement remarks, Edelman spoke to how science has changed over the last 50 years, noting the current difficulties of studying the complexity of hundreds of proteins interacting in a living cell, and the supportive relationship between science and technology. Edelman also went on to identify what he believes are "the three great and grand challenges of biological science in this century": the origin of life, morphogenesis (how genes can meld together with mechano-chemistry to give shape and form to animals and evolution), and the origins of consciousness.
To the graduating class, Edelman advised: "Do pay attention to the details because you have to as a scientist and experimentalist, but also try to keep an enriched set of imaginative ideas because in fact the pursuit that you are about to go into involves a truly noble set of ends. I believe that even in times of human tragedy, the pursuit of scientific inquiry serves as a sign that we must be doing something right."
Passion for Mentorship
After the conclusion of the keynote address, Williamson took the stage to announce that the Kellogg School was establishing a new award, named after the first dean of the program, "Bernie" Gilula. Williamson credited Gilula with establishing much of the tone and tenor of the graduate program after its founding in 1989, including its passion for mentorship and focus on the individual student.
Wilson was the award's first recipient, Williamson declared, citing Wilson's roles developing the graduate program's initial curriculum, organizing a course in biophysics, and acting as faculty advisor for the Skaggs Oxford joint Ph.D.-D.Phil. program, which currently sponsors 10 students at Scripps Research and Oxford University.
"[Professor Wilson] has been an outstanding mentor to his own students in his research laboratory and has supported the students in general," Williamson said. "He is one of the reasons our program has maintained that special quality instilled by the leadership of Bernie Gilula in the early days."
Wilson—who was taken by surprise by the announcement—was persuaded to contribute a few remarks to the gathering. He recalled the thirst for knowledge and spirit of collaboration of the first student in the Scripps Research program, Jairo Arévelo, and noted it has been "tremendously rewarding" for him to see each student develop and flourish during their graduate education and subsequent careers.
Next, Scripps Research faculty members stepped up to the stage one by one to speak about the array of scientific and personal accomplishments of each member of the class of 2010. It was a talented crowd.
The 30 Ph.D. students in this year's graduating class represent fields from organic chemistry to molecular biology, and interests in topics from malaria to stem cells. Their dissertations include titles such as: "Total Syntheses of Haouamine A," "Visualizing Biological Complexity: Toward Discovery Based Single Particle Electron Microscopy," and "Novel Quantitative Approaches to Understanding Cell Motility."
Members of the Scripps Research Class of '10 will work in both academia and industry, including at Merck, University of Washington, CSIC Institute (in Spain) University of Texas Southwestern, Institute of Science & Engineering (in Singapore), University of Wisconsin, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California at Berkeley, Eli Lilly, and Bristol Myers Squibb.
When Ph.D. degrees were officially conferred on the candidates and honorary degree recipient, the audience burst into thunderous applause.
When the faculty, students, graduates, family, friends, and supporters filed out of the auditorium, they encountered bright sunshine and a luncheon to help them celebrate with "great enthusiasm."
For a complete list of the graduating students, their advisors, and their thesis topics, see 2010 Graduating Students.
Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu