Paula Cohen named provost fellow for life sciences

Emmanuel Giannelis, vice provost for research and vice president for technology transfer, intellectual property and research policy, has announced the appointment of Dr. Paula Cohen as provost fellow for life sciences.

Cohen will be charged with helping further the Office of the Vice Provost for Research’s mission of advancing and supporting Cornell research. The three-year appointment begins July 1. Cohen is professor of genetics and director of the Center for Reproductive Genomics in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Biomedical Sciences. She will be responsible for catalyzing, coordinating, initiating and promoting research and programs in her field. Also named provost fellow is Christopher Wildeman, professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology and director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

Giannelis said the fellows are exceedingly qualified for their new roles.

“It is their expertise, he said. “They’re both very accomplished researchers and they’ve both led [research] centers. So, they have what it takes to be successful.”

Having a leadership triumvirate representing a cross-section of the university – Giannelis is the Walter R. Read Professor of Engineering – is by design, Giannelis said.

“We are a comprehensive university, we have a large number of faculty who specialize in many, many different fields,” he said. “Having a team where people bring to the table more than one type of knowledge and expertise always helps.”

Cohen said she hopes to be a liaison between the vice provost’s office and life sciences faculty, as well a catalyst for cross-disciplinary research collaboration.

“Cornell is already one of the most collaborative institutions in which I have ever worked,” she said, “and I hope to further foster this spirit of multidisciplinary research.”

Giannelis referenced an initiative introduced by Provost Michael Kotlikoff, formerly dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, in 2016: the idea of “radical collaboration” – research that capitalizes on the collaborative environment that has fostered interdisciplinary faculty interactions across the university’s campuses in Ithaca and New York City.

Bringing on provost fellows from diverse fields of study is an “excellent example” of that collaborative spirit, Giannelis said.

Dr. Paula Cohen, professor of genetics in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and director of the Center for Reproductive Genomics. Photo by University Photography.

“The excitement and the opportunities are not necessarily in our disciplines by themselves but at the intersection of different disciplines,” he said. “There’s the opportunity to learn what works for one discipline and perhaps apply it to another, but more importantly, to bring faculty and students from different fields to tackle research problems together when historically there hasn’t been much interaction. I think it’s something we need to be doing more and more.”

“This is very much at the heart of the provost’s radical collaboration initiative, and I am really excited by the possibilities offered by these team science endeavors,” Cohen said. “This type of collaboration has always been something I’ve sought actively in my own research, and I look forward very much to encouraging and supporting others to participate in these ventures, especially young faculty.”

Other goals Giannelis is hoping to achieve through his office include increasing research activity and diversifying Cornell’s research grant portfolio to heighten visibility for the university, and enhancing “a sense of belonging” for Cornell’s approximately 600 postdoctoral researchers.

The university announced its Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowships program in 2017; the first cohort of postdoctoral fellows is arriving at Cornell this year. Giannelis said Cohen and Wildeman will be leading that initiative as part of their duties as provost fellows.

A member of the faculty since 2004, Cohen received her bachelor’s in physiology from King’s College, University of London, in 1989, and her Ph.D. from the University of London in 1992. Wildeman, who joined Cornell in 2014, received his bachelor’s in philosophy, sociology and Spanish from Dickinson College in 2002, and his master’s (2006) and Ph.D. (2008) in sociology and demography from Princeton University.

By Tom Fleischman

A version of this story appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.