Becoming (Prof.) (Rev.) (Dr.) Ram Samudrala (, Ph.D.)

(I live to learn.)

On October 1, 2014, I accepted the position of Professor and Chief of the Division of Bioinformatics in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the State University of New York (SUNY), Buffalo. If you're considering graduate school in the broad area of computational biology and interested in working with me, consider applying to one of their many graduate programs.

Before SUNY, I was at the University of Washington, Seattle where I started my faculty career on February 1, 2001 (and received my tenure in July 2006). This particular decision was the toughest choice I had to make in terms of my academics since my options were many and varied, each with their own set of advantages. I finally chose based on a West Coast vs. East Coast tradeoff, and I felt it was time I explored a bit of the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Alaska, British Columbia).

Earlier, I was at Stanford University with a National Science Foundation/Burroughs Wellcome Fund postdoctoral fellowship awarded to me by The Program in Mathematics and Molecular Biology, working with Michael Levitt, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013. This period, from September 1997 to January 2001, was arguably one of the most productive periods of my life, particularly scientifically. A postdoc is a beautiful place to be where you don't have to take classes, where you don't have to worry about doing a thesis, and where you get to do research in a pure manner without worrying about grants.

I earned my doctor of philosophy (PhD) doing research on the protein folding problem at the Centre for Advanced Research in Biotechnology (CARB) in Rockville, MD with John Moult (May 1993 to August 1997). The exam, held on June 19, 1997, lasted two hours and I passed unanimously. My thesis is titled "A graph theoretic solution to the context-sensitivity problem in protein structure prediction."

As I passed my defense, a faculty member at CARB asked me if he should treat me with more respect since I have a doctorate. I told him that me having a PhD next to my name may well be reason to treat me with less. While it is somewhat of an accomplishment to get this far, I would say the degree means little in terms of how intelligent or wise you are.

But, usage of the title has had unexpected results. For example, when complaining about some service, product, or to get something done, I've found it far more effective if I put a "Dr." in front. There is a perception that the doctorate means something, and using it takes advantage of that perception.

I accidentally ended up with the "Dr." in my USENET postings (as a result of it being incorporated into my tinrc, from my password file), and the response has been even more interesting. People who disagree with me see fit to deride my accomplishments, even though what I write in USENET and what I write, say, in one of my papers, are in completely different contexts.

My decision to take a leadership position at SUNY represented almost coming a full circle academically, since I did my undergraduate degree at Ohio Wesleyan University, a small but excellent liberal arts school majoring in Computing Science and Genetics (January 1990 to May 1993).

I love academia. I love the Ivory Tower. I love it because I get to interact with, influence, and be influenced by some of the brightest minds in the world (especially the young ones). People actually pay me to pursue my passion (it's like paying me pursue a hobby I love), and I have an arbitrary amount of freedom. But it's enjoying doing the day-to-day minichallenges that I pursue science, and (echoing the words for my PhD mentor John Moult) believe it is the greatest achievement of humans and their long term best hope for survival, prosperity, and enlightenment.

Ram Samudrala ||