Monday, September 3, 2012
Weizmann: A matter of
Institute of Science produces high-quality multidisciplinary research by
placing bets on people, not projects.
"People are chosen by
their quality, not by their project or field," said Irit Sagi, Maurizio Pontecorvo
professorial chair in the department of structural biology. "We put more
emphasis on needing to characterize the person."
The institute begins
following the careers of researchers when they are in graduate school and
continues doing so through mandatory postdocs abroad. As a result, the Weizmann
is already familiar with a candidate before he or she submits a CV.
"We have only five
major universities, so more or less everybody knows each other," Sagi
CVs are assigned to a
department. The institute comprises five faculties in biology; biochemistry;
chemistry; physics; and mathematics and computer science.
Each faculty is further
divided into departments. For example, the biology faculty is divided into five
departments for biological regulation, immunology, molecular cell biology,
neurobiology and veterinary resources.
After the CVs are assigned
to a department, "there are interviews, and we hear two lectures at least.
We try also to socialize with him or her," Sagi said.
Candidates are then asked to
write 2-4 pages describing their vision, a summary of their achievements and
what they plan to do in the next five years. The achievements must include 2-3
Sagi said Weizmann also
seeks advice on applications "from external experts."
She said this personal
approach to recruiting, and the rigor of the review, are crucial at Weizmann,
where investigators are expected to remain a long time.
"In the U.S., to get
promoted you have to move from university to university. Here, you hire someone
and expect them to get tenure and then lead the field," she noted.
However, these high-impact
investigators are expected to bring in their own money through external grants,
which more often than not still may fall into the traditional project-based
Weizmann provides startup
funding for new investigators for three years, after which a PI is expected to
compete outside for grants. However, Sagi noted the institute will provide
funding for early stage ideas that would not likely fare well in a traditional
peer-reviewed competition for funds.
She added that the president
and the administration encourage scientists to pursue high risk research.
The institute's annual
budget is about $200 million. About a third comes from the Israeli government,
with the remainder from research grants, royalties and donations.
- Susan Schaeffer