Contributing on Every Level
G. William Rebeck, PhD, professor in the department of neuroscience, is the new chair of the medical center caucus of the university faculty senate. The “Senate of Georgetown University, has the purpose of insuring full Faculty participation in matters of general University interest by sharing responsibility with the University Board of Directors and Administration in the conduct of University affairs,” as stated in the Faculty Senate’s Constitution. http://www1.georgetown.edu/facultyhandbook/toc/section3/sub5/
September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and Rebeck studies Alzheimer’s disease. We caught up with him to find out how his research was coming along, and to ask him about his recent appointment as head of the medical center caucus. Here is what he had to say.
On the progress of his research
“I have days when I’m so excited, and then I have days when I remember that research is really slow. I started studying the gene apolipoprotein E (APOE) in Alzheimer’s disease in 1993, and I remember saying at that time, “Five years from now, we will know what it’s doing. I don’t know if we will be in the business of developing a treatment, but we will understand it.” So that was eighteen years ago, and we haven’t gotten there yet. I had faith that we would solve it quickly, and you get a little more experience and you realize that these are hard questions, particularly these questions of aging are hard questions, and so it takes time.
“I’m also constantly reminded how much money everything takes, which is disappointing. Experiments are expensive.
“The good part of it is, I have really smart people in my lab. They come in to me with really interesting ideas and we talk through them and I feel like my job is mostly acting as a facilitator to help them do the experiments they came up with. I spend some of my time helping them craft their experiments so they can get them done in a reasonable period of time or so that they can focus on the more important questions. I think the job of a PI [principal investigator] is mostly to facilitate the people in their lab to come up with good questions and then try to answer those questions.
“Regarding our research, one thing I do think about is how can we contribute. That’s a question I ask frequently. I like the sense that we are contributing to a world that’s out here, and we’re not doing it in a way to try to gain fame. What we’re trying to do is fill in our part of the map [of Alzheimer’s disease research] and do it well.”
On becoming chair of the medical caucus of the university faculty senate
“When I got into research, I thought, I don’t want to be bored. This is something that was a driving force in my life. And I’ve never been bored. Part of that is because you’re doing research, and then you do some teaching, and you teach different groups of people, and you teach different subjects, and you’re constantly pushing yourself.
“I see faculty governance the same way. I want to contribute if I can. I think having an active research program [and] being involved actively with teaching, I think you have to be involved with governance. I think you have to bring those concerns to the university and say, “These are things I need that will help my lab. These are things I need that will help my teaching.
“I very much have this feeling—maybe it’s not true—I have this feeling that as a faculty member, this is my university. I’m sure people will say, ‘Not really, Bill, it’s the students’ university. Or it’s the administration’s university.’ Actually, I think [with] the whole process of tenure … I have earned partial ownership, like you do in a law firm. So I love the fact that I get to sit down with other faculty members and talk about what we see as things that we can do to improve the university.
“One thing I do not want to do is be a voice of complaining. I think there is a lot of imagination here about how we can make things better, and so I want to facilitate those conversations. I think the way to do that is to give people hope … [on] the solutions they are working on to various problems, that there is a way to move those solutions forward.
“I think the research that goes on in the medical center is among the most important things going on in the country. I’m immensely proud of the fact that I’m part of a medical center that does research on breast cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease, or treatment of stroke….That’s remarkable to me. My God, Dick Schlegel helped develop a vaccine that’s saving thousands of lives every year. How much better can you do than that!”
By Frank Reider, GUMC Communications