Last Wednesday, the Genetics Society of America appointed Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, its vice president for 2016 and president for 2017. Of the society’s 17 presidents this century, Cooley will be the seventh woman to lead the organization.
Cooley was selected for the position by an online election which was open to the society’s over-5,500 members. She served as an elected member of the GSA board of directors between 2012 and 2015, and previously served as president of the organization’s Drosophila board of directors — a board within the society focused on fruit-fly research. Cooley said that as president, she hopes to advocate for genetics as an important scientific field as well as the value of basic research.
In a Sunday email to the News, Cooley noted that the society’s outreach programs and its sponsorship of science conferences for research communities were contributing factors to her decision to make a presidential run. However, she identified the society’s advocacy for basic research methods in genetic model systems as the most important consideration.
“Much of our understanding of developmental biology -(fertilized egg to fertile adult) comes from work carried out in flies and other model systems,” Cooley said. “As an added bonus, this research continues to reveal incredibly valuable insight into human biology, disease mechanisms and aging.”
She said that she is thankful for the opportunity to continue working with the GSA, now that her term as director has ended.
Cooley acknowledged that her GSA presidency will be a significant addition to her existing responsibilities as dean of the Graduate School and principal investigator in her lab, which studies the development of female gametes using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system.
However, she noted that now is a critical time to strengthen support for basic research in model systems, adding that she looks forward to working with her colleagues at the GSA to ensure that the genetics research community continues to thrive.
Susan Baserga ’80 GRD ’88 MED ’88, professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, genetics and therapeutic radiology at the School of Medicine, described Cooley as an “outstanding choice” for the position of GSA president, due to her exemplary credentials as a Drosophila geneticist.
Baserga added that, in general, women are underrepresented in academic positions in the biological sciences, although they constitute more than half of trainees in Ph.D. programs in the biological sciences.
“Fifty percent of our trainees in Ph.D. programs have been women for some time now, and they would have been expected to then join the academic ranks,” Baserga said. “There are many of us who are working hard so that our women graduate students will aspire to academic positions and join us in the pursuit of scientific discovery at major research universities.”
Robert Alpern, dean of the Yale School of Medicine, expressed his delight at Cooley’s appointment, describing her as “an extremely talented member of [the University] senior faculty.”
In response to a question about the relevance of Cooley’s recognition to current discussions of gender diversity in the University faculty, Alpern said that although it was gratifying to see a senior woman receive acknowledgements of her excellence, he did not believe any of her honors were bestowed because of her gender.
Cooley said women are quite well-represented in the Drosophila field and that many of the field’s leaders are women.
In her candidacy statement, Cooley identified strong advocacy for genetics and the value of basic research as the top priority of her presidency. In addition, she said she hopes to increase funding for basic science by building relationships with funding bodies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
“Funding for basic science has eroded in recent years,” she said.
According to the statement, Cooley also hopes to support efforts to strengthen the presence of the GSA in social media and to look for ways of improving the society’s outreach to the public.
Cooley was appointed dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences by University President Peter Salovey in September 2014.