Education, Local

Welcome to the Watson School

It’s back-to-school time across the country, and CSHL is no exception. Today we welcome a guest blogger from the Watson School of Biological Sciences.

Everyone knows CSHL. Not as many people know the Watson School. You may have heard about the research Watson School students are doing. You may have read some Watson School students’ contributions to this blog. You may have seen them leading tours around the CSHL campus. Or you may have listened to them teach you about DNA at CSHL’s Dolan DNA Learning Center. But the Watson School?

The Watson School is the graduate school at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. It was established in 1998 – a short existence compared to similar Ph.D. programs, like those at Harvard, Stanford or MIT. But in the Watson School’s 15-year history, our students have accomplished a lot. About 140 students have entered the program. Almost 80 have graduated and gone on to pursue careers in science. A quarter of graduates already lead their own labs at prestigious universities around the world. That high percentage reflects the excellent students the Watson School attracts as well as the great training the CSHL faculty provides to those students. In addition to preparing students for research, the Watson School curriculum trains students to think broadly about science and how it affects society. It’s no surprise that several graduates have become successful in non-academic scientific careers, like publishing, biotechnology, non-profit organizations, and consulting.

What makes the Watson School special? Well, maybe most noticeably, the name. The Watson School’s namesake is CSHL Chancellor emeritus and Nobel Prize winner James Watson, who inspired CSHL’s effort to establish a Ph.D. program. Dr. Watson was concerned that graduate education in the United States takes too long. So the founding goals of the Watson School were to train students how to think critically, as good scientists must; give them enough background to enable them to identify interesting and important problems to work on; and encourage them to finish their degree quickly so they could become independent. Watson School students have done exactly this.

The other thing that makes the Watson School unique is the same thing that makes CSHL unique – a collegial feeling among peers rather than a structured hierarchy. Dr. Watson was a Ph.D. student at Indiana University, where he most appreciated being treated as an equal by professors. This attitude prevails at the School and at CSHL, and creates a great atmosphere for science. Everyone knows one another and you can always find someone – student, research associate, postdoctoral fellow, professor – to help you with an experiment…or anything else.

Watson School students make friendships that continue well beyond their time at CSHL. In a way, it’s unavoidable. Each year, there are only about 10 students who start their Ph.D. studies at the School, and they all take the same classes, go to the same lectures, and study together for exams. In the first year, they even live together – in two renovated old houses along the harbor. Later in their careers, they often remain professional colleagues. Some graduates now have labs at the same university and collaborate on research projects. Most return to CSHL for scientific meetings.

We’ve just welcomed the Watson School’s Entering Class of 2014. They’ve moved in. They’ve started classes. They – like the rest of the Watson School students – are now part of the CSHL community. These new students are interested in a range of problems in biology (see what they’re doing in the Watson School News) and will contribute to science in ways we can’t yet predict.

So there’s the Watson School. Stay tuned.

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