The Vallee Visiting Professorships open up a two-way street, which was not something Carla Shatz, PhD, Sapp Family Provostial Professor of Biology and Neurobiology and the David Starr Jordan Director of Stanford Bio-X, had anticipated when she went last fall to Columbia University’s newly formed Zuckerman Mind Brain and Behavior Institute (ZMBBI) for her first ever sabbatical of any length. There, hosted by Professors Tom Jessell and Carol Mason, she had planned to focus her attention on research, the opportunity to update her knowledge of neuroscience and new technology, and the chance to observe how another great institution is building a new neuroscience institute. But the freedom to wander into labs at will from her office in the stunning new Green Research Building designed by Renzo Piano, to interact with faculty across the Medical School campus – and indeed the broader New York City Neuroscience community - and to learn about their research in a leisurely way was far more enriching than the hectic lab visits typical of a one day trip to give a seminar and started conversations that she had not expected. Her October 19th Vallee Lecture, “Saving the Synapse: Developmental Critical Periods and Alzheimer’s Disease,” prompted many comments about her lab’s research and discoveries, and nudged a number of PhD students and postdocs to discuss their own experiments, worries, plans and career choices with her. These meetings in turn fostered a well-attended career and mentoring workshop for trainees at the Institute, hosted by Profs Carol Mason, Mark Churchland and Darcy Kelly on November 17.
“Before the VVP,” Dr Shatz wrote, “I don’t think I understood the power or utility of sharing my own experiences – both in science and in life. I met with Mike Purdy, Executive Vice President for Research at Columbia, who wanted to know everything about Stanford Bio-X, which I direct, and about how Stanford has built so many cutting-edge and successful interdisciplinary institutes. I was taken unawares by the genuine interest of students and junior faculty in the course of my research training, decisions and discoveries, and my personal life story. The VVP did more than expand my scientific horizons. It deepened my understanding of myself, and what I can offer to others. For this experience I am profoundly thankful.”
Eric Kandel, Carla Shatz and Mary Beth Hatten