Saturday, December 16, 2006

This is really not Eli's thing.....

About half a year ago there was a huge blowup over the attempted hiring of Alla Karpova at MIT by the McGovern Institute for Brain Science when she was blown off by Susumu Tonegawa, director of the other neuroscience institute in the department, the Picower. Pinko Punko was all over it. The Boston Globe obtained the complete Email interchange between the two, which included such classic knifework as

Tonegawa: With these positive things said, I do have a strong reservation about having you as a faculty colleague in the same building here at MIT at this time because of a serious overlap in research interest and approach: reward-driven learning and decision-making studied using genetically engineered rodents (and possibly primates in the future). We briefly discussed the possibility of arranging a collaboration. But this is complex because others (postdocs and students) are involved and your lab and my lab's expertise are not really complimentary. Furthermore, for career development (tenure evaluation), it is disadvantageous for a junior faculty (you) to have a collaborative arrangement with a senior faculty member (me).
I put some further thought into it and talked extensively with my postdocs and graduate students. I also talked with my current collaborating faculty colleagues, and we all came up with the conclusion that if you set up a lab at the McGovern Institute, unpleasant competition will be unavoidable. Also, my postdocs and graduate students and your counterparts will be very reluctant to be open to each other about their current status of research. Management of these people and the research projects will become very difficult for both of us. What accentuates this difficulty is the still uneasy atmosphere between McGovern and Picower which you may have noticed.
And Karpova's sweet reply
On top of our personal interaction, it would pain me to see my appointment to increase the tensions between the Picower and the McGovern Institutes. By nature, I always try to diffuse conflicts and to bring people closer. It is unlikely that I could live with myself if I knew that I contributed to escalation of such a conflict. I was naively excited about McGovern’s interest in me because I felt that I could always find the understanding and support at the Picower and that maybe I can help diffuse some of the tensions between the two, while it seems that the opposite would result from my appointment.
Soon after which the entire correspondence appeared in the Boston Globe. The end of the story is that Karpova went off to enjoy Howard Hughes' money at Janelia Farms, lots of people at MIT were super ticked off, and a COMMITTEE was formed.

Well the committee has reported (Nov. 2) and it is not sweetness and light, with harsh words for all. The two institutes are called out for not playing well with others, the hiring process is described as flawed (polite for cluster, well you know) and
Faculty members also feel a responsibility, when mentoring young scientists, to be sure that each has a reasonably unique topic of research to pursue. Therefore, it was not inappropriate for Tonegawa to inform Karpova that his lab would not collaborate with hers. It was also not inappropriate for him to warn her that the mouse facility was becoming oversubscribed. It was, however, inappropriate for him to imply that the mouse facilities in the neuroscience building would not be made available to her. It was inappropriate for Tonegawa to send an email expressing concern about overlap and competition while the Department Head was deliberating about whether to make an offer. It was even more inappropriate for him to send discouraging email after an offer was made. We heard from many that Tonegawa has a history of being very competitive, perhaps overly so. We also heard of a long history of disagreement between Tonegawa and other members of the Biology faculty, including incidents involving hiring and promotion. Tonegawa’s communication with Karpova may be a manifestation of inappropriate competitiveness, mainly directed at the McGovern leadership. However, we also believe that to some extent Tonegawa was provoked. For example, Tonegawa was not included on Karpova’s interview list despite the closeness of his area of research with hers. His concerns about scientific overlap were dismissed, first by the search committee and later by members of the Department and the Department Head, when normally the issue of overlap is taken very seriously by the Biology Department.
Closing the circle November 17, Tonegawa sent a letter of resignation
I have informed Dean Silbey and Provost Reif this afternoon of my decision to resign as director of the Picower Institute, effective December 31 when my appointment expires, so I can devote all my energy and focus to research.
Will Robert Desimmone, Director of the McGovern, be far behind?


Anonymous said...

I feel like Bob might stay, even though they pulled less punches in the report about him. Also, did you notice that we had a Per infestation over this incident?

It is always interesting when Per takes a side. I think you can guess whose side he was on here.

Anonymous said...

That was me. Yikes.