Update on the Vagelos Institute for Biomedical Research Education

Dear Colleagues:

Today I am writing to update you on our plans for the Vagelos Institute for Biomedical Research Education and to share the recommendations of an internal task force that has been considering the future of PhD graduate programs at VP&S.

As you know, the purpose of the Vagelos Institute is to rethink how we train, support, and foster the careers of the PhD students and early career physician-scientists who will redefine the boundaries of biomedical science. The members of the Graduate Education Future-State Task Force, led by Hashim Al-Hashimi, PhD, addressed this challenge by holding discussions with current students, program directors, chairs, and colleagues at other institutions. The task force considered program governance structures, resources needed by graduate students and their faculty mentors, new models for research training, and the best means for recruiting exceptionally talented and diverse students. I am glad to be able to share an executive summary of their report with you today: Reimagining the VP&S Biomedical PhD Graduate Programs. I want to thank all those who have been involved in producing this valuable framework for the future.

Starting next month, Dr. Al-Hashimi will transition from his role as task force chair to Director of Biomedical Graduate Training at the Vagelos Institute, and, in the 2024-25 academic year, he will begin serving as VP&S’s Associate Dean of Biomedical Graduate Education, succeeding Arthur Palmer, PhD. Art has long been an indispensable leader of the VP&S research enterprise, always willing to step in and provide support as needed, whether as interim chair of the Biochemistry Department or as the leader of one of the Vagelos Institute task force groups.

We are exceedingly fortunate to have benefited from Dr. Palmer’s devoted stewardship of graduate education at the College and to now have Dr. Al-Hashimi taking on this role. A member of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Hashim came to Columbia in 2022 following appointments at Duke and the University of Michigan, and distinguished graduate study at Yale, where he helped revolutionize the study of protein structure and dynamics using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. He is a recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology and the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science, among other honors. Today, his lab focuses on developing new methods for imaging the dynamics of nucleic acids at atomic resolution.

Building on the solid foundation established by so many of you, the year ahead promises great progress in graduate education at VP&S. We are poised to strengthen programming and support for our current students while launching a new training model for the next class of PhD students. We will soon be seeking nominations for an implementation committee overseeing the next phase of this work. Of course, none of this would be possible without the visionary leadership and unsurpassed commitment and generosity of Roy and Diana Vagelos. Their belief in this institution, in the students, faculty and staff that comprise the VP&S community, and in the potential of biomedical research to improve society remains an inspiration for us all.

All my best,

Katrina Armstrong, MD
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences, Columbia University