DEPARTMENT OF EMBRYOLOGY AND "CARNEGIE-STYLE SCIENCE"
Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1902 as an organization for scientific discovery. The Department of Embryology, founded in 1913 in affiliation with the Anatomy Department of Johns Hopkins University, is one of six departments within the Carnegie Institution of Washington. During the succeeding decades a fundamental description of human development and path-breaking experimental studies emerged. In 1960, the Department moved from the medical school to the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus at 115 West University Parkway. The move initiated a close relationship with the JHU Department of Biology and bolstered a new research focus on understanding fundamental developmental mechanisms at the cellular and molecular level. Since then, departmental staff have uncovered the role played by genes during embryogenesis, developed widely used experimental methodologies, trained several scientific generations of biologists while they worked in the labs as postdoctoral fellows, and shared with Biology a graduate program and many intellectual ties. In 1987, Embryology Department faculty were first appointed Investigators of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
In 2005, the Department moved to it's new building, the Maxine F. Singer research building (read transcript of dedication speech), located on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus at 3520 San Martin Drive. During this history, the Department of Embryology has become recognized worldwide as one of the premier research centers in cellular, developmental and genetic biology. The department has a unique atmosphere and research style that have allowed a small enterprise to have a disproportionately large impact on science. We revere this atmosphere as the source of our inspiration and strive to further improve it as the department evolves within the current milieu of intensive activity, investment and opportunity in the biological sciences.
Our Department is based on the premise that scientific leadership requires exceptional individuals with the insight, resources and courage to investigate the margins of what is feasible and respectable. We make every effort to hire the most creative and skilled researchers but pay relatively little attention to their area of current interest. We then strive to encourage bold ventures by providing stimulating intellectual and material resources, and trust that each faculty member's interests will evolve. Scientific creativity is bolstered by several other factors. There is no tenure system. Instead, all faculty are evaluated at five-year intervals. The originality and long-term significance of a research program is emphasized rather than its funding level or professional visibility. Communication within the department is extensive and is fostered in several ways. A steady flow of new associates, fellows, students and visitors is encouraged. Research groups are kept small (less than 10) to facilitate communication between faculty and lab members and to make it easier for faculty to remain experimentally engaged.
The Carnegie style motivates us to use our laboratory space in ways that are not typical of other leading biology research laboratories. Each regular faculty member has only about 800 sq ft of personal laboratory space with an attached office. However, research groups larger than 4 or 5 house some of their members in common shared laboratories located nearby. Thus, for many, the researcher across the bench works in a different research group. For everyone, whether based in a main or shared lab, a great deal of research activity takes place in other common departmental space. These rooms contain all major research instruments such as advanced microscopes, biochemical instrumentation, sequencing and computational facilities. Facilities to house and care for research animals are separate, though located strategically relative to their major users. In addition, the department maintains core facilities and stockrooms that are open and used by all. Consequently, researchers feel like part of a department rather than citizens of a single group.
The feeling that there are few barriers to trying out a new idea is a critical component of the Carnegie style. New projects can be expected to require new instruments, new experimental animals and new space to house these items. These start-ups may occur as new postdocs and Staff Associates join the department and at other irregular times. Importantly, faculty expect to be able to innovate much more quickly than in most other departments. Where most researchers would have to write a grant and wait typically for a year or more to initiate work following their decision to pursue a new direction, our faculty can and do expect to start immediately. The department retains flexible space to accommodate unexpected projects. It is understood that any area that falls into disuse is likely to be renovated and assigned a new role.
Major rites of the Carnegie style take place each week at regular scientific meetings of the entire department. The most important meeting is a department-wide progress report where a different researcher each week presents the results of their recent investigations. Questions occur throughout the course of the presentation and may continue for a considerable time afterwards. A common sense of intellectual standards is developed at these meetings and they make it relatively easy to learn what each person they are likely to run into is working on and interested in. Conversations, ideas and novel research directions are often born from this combination.