UW News

May 17, 2018

Washington Research Foundation grant brings on four new biology faculty just in time for new Life Sciences Building

UW News

With the grand opening of the new $171 million Life Sciences Building just months away, it’s time to fill the building with faculty.

That was the idea behind a $3 million Washington Research Foundation (WRF) grant to hire four biology professors. It’s called a cluster hire and will help maintain the University of Washington’s leading reputation in primary research and life sciences.

“WRF has been assisting UW Biology for more than a decade with recruiting and retaining key faculty.  We wanted to support (Department Chair) Toby Bradshaw’s plan for a cluster hire because we believe it will lead to great collaborations and research with significant impact.  We look forward to getting to know the new investigators and their areas of research,” said WRF CEO Ron Howell.

The Department of Biology has been planning for the hires for about six years, said Bradshaw. It’s important to enhance the region’s research capability in integrative and collaborative biology. The new faculty, recognized as Washington Research Foundation Distinguished Investigators, will help train the next generation of life scientists in what is already the largest STEM undergraduate degree program in Washington.

And the new hiring process will reinvent the way faculty at the UW are recruited by explicitly seeking faculty who will foster connections with other academic departments at the university.

The UW screened more than 1,000 applicants for the four positions.

“These are the top young scientists in the field of biology, and they’re being recruited by everyone,” Bradshaw said.

The challenge, then, is how to recruit them to the UW.

A brand-new building is one way, and having backers like the WRF is another, Bradshaw said. “The new Life Sciences Building is a tremendous draw,” he said

WRF has been a leading supporter of innovations at the UW spanning the life sciences, engineering, data science and more since 1985.

“They’ve been incredibly generous. This grant is another example of that,” Bradshaw said.

The Biology Department’s been bursting at the seams for years, unable to bring on new people because of a lack of space in Kincaid, Hitchcock, and Johnson Halls. Now, that’s changed.

UW’s Biology Department is known for its integrative approach. The new facility will play to that strength, Bradshaw said.

“The best ideas are generated and pursued in collaboration,” he said. “There are key features in this building designed to promote social interactions and vital collaboration.”

Gone are the days of each faculty member having her or his own lab, Bradshaw said. Instead, space is shared to encourage comingling of faculty, researchers and students. It should help the department continue to soar and build on its already strong national reputation.

“We would like to be the hub for basic life sciences research,” Bradshaw said.

The Washington Research Foundation Distinguished Investigators will start in fall 2018.