08 May 2014

Open Letter to the City University of New York

So it looks like my alma mater - The City University of New York Graduate Center - may restructure the science graduate programs. There's a plan to eliminate the Biology Program from the central Graduate Center and 'send' the PhD programs to the individual campuses. The problem for the Plant Sciences subprogram is that it is currently housed almost exclusively at Lehman College, which cannot at this time give PhD degrees. This would essentially kill a large, vibrant botany PhD program, and leave me feeling orphaned.

I am still gathering information, but some information on the plan can be found in Dr. Small's address at this link.

Today I sent this letter to a couple people:
Dr. Laurel Eckhart, Executive Officer of the Biology Doctoral Program (Leckhardt@gc.cuny.edu)
Dr. Gillian Small, CUNY Vice Chancellor of Research (Gillian.small@mail.cuny.edu)
Adjie Henderson, CUNY Graduate Dean of Sciences   (ahenderson@gc.cuny.edu)


This week I received an appeal letter from Dr. Laurel Eckhardt on behalf of the CUNY Biology Doctoral Program asking for support for the Biology doctoral students at CUNY.

I am a proud CUNY alumnus, and would love to support the program, but I have heard rumors about the program that I would like to have clarified before I can commit any support.

It is my understanding that the Graduate Center intends to move the PhD programs from the 365 Fifth Ave to individual CUNY campuses. At the moment, the Plant Sciences subprogram is essentially housed at Lehman College. When I was a student (2000-2007), half of the CUNY Plant Science students were advised by faculty at Lehman, and the other half were mentoring with adjunct faculty at the New York Botanical Garden.

If Lehman College cannot house a PhD program, then I ask you: What will happen to the Plant Sciences subprogram?

The CUNY Plant Science subprogram is one of the largest and most important Botany doctoral programs in the country, and attracts students from all over the world. The NYBG is the largest botanical research institution in the country. The program admits not only the most promising botanists in the world, but also non-traditional students like myself. As a Philosophy undergraduate, I decided to pursue my PhD  several years after graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a BA. After talking my way into several doctoral-level classes, I was admitted to the program, granted a Science Fellowship, and then secured a 5-year F32 individual NRSA from the NIH, which allowed me to completed my doctoral training with several first-author publications in top-tier journals. I went on to a successful postdoc at Weill Cornell Medical College before taking an R&D position with J&J.

I am thankful that my thesis advisor (Edward Kennelly) saw in me the potential to excel, and that the CUNY plant sciences subprogram gave me the opportunity to achieve in a way that would have been difficult given my atypical background.

I have a great fondness for public education in general , and for CUNY specifically. I have always looked forward to the time when I would be able to give back to the program that helped put me on my career path. I applaud the efforts to support students that were outlined in the letter I received. Students need support; without it, I certainly would not have succeeded.

But if the program that granted me a PhD is dismantled, I will feel orphaned and alienated. Until I am sure that the Plant Science program is secure, I do  not feel that I can support my alma mater.

Please feel free to reach out to me at your convenience.