Tufts Names New Vice Provost for Research

Immunologist Caroline Genco looks to foster collaborations across the university
Caroline Genco, new Tufts vice provost for research, in her office. She looks to foster collaborations across the university.
“Tufts must move from individual excellence to collective excellence by striving for more entrepreneurship and collaborative science,” Caroline Genco said. Photo: Kelvin Ma
July 22, 2019

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Caroline Genco, the Arthur E. Spiller Professor and chair of the Department of Immunology at Tufts University School of Medicine, will be the new vice provost for research at Tufts University, starting October 1.

Genco will take over the role from Simin Meydani, who has held the post since 2016 and led the creation of Tufts’ first university-wide strategic plan specifically geared toward research.

At Tufts School of Medicine, Genco’s research has focused on bacterial infectious diseases and their impact on the immune system. Her work spans basic to translational science and global health. Her lab, which she will continue to lead, focuses on understanding host responses leading to acute and chronic inflammation in humans.

Prior to joining Tufts in 2015, Genco was a professor in the departments of medicine and microbiology at Boston University School of Medicine, where she was research director of the Section on Infectious Diseases. She was also an affiliate faculty member in the Biomedical Engineering Department at BU’s School of Engineering.

Collaboration has been a cornerstone of Genco’s research philosophy, and she has fostered relationships among scientists in the fields of immunology, infectious diseases, epidemiology, biomedical engineering, and public health. In her four years as chair of immunology, she encouraged work between her department and investigators throughout Tufts and Tufts Medical Center, helping grow the department’s funding from $2 million to $8.7 million.

Genco recently spoke with Tufts Now about her experience as a bridge builder and her plans for supporting researchers across all of Tufts’ campuses.

Tufts Now: What is a point of pride in your research career?

Caroline Genco: What I am most proud of is bringing people together to impact human health. My research has really grown over the years by being able to cross disciplines. Interacting and collaborating with as many people as you can, and bringing people together from diverse backgrounds, has been instrumental to research success.

What drives you to be so collaborative?

Growing up in a large extended family, I was surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins who taught me the importance of fostering an interactive community. I have always strived to bring the same approach to every aspect of my career.

How good do you think Tufts is at collaboration?

Tufts is on the right track for moving towards collective excellence by striving for more entrepreneurship and collaborative science; but we can do better. Tufts must move from individual excellence to collective excellence by striving for more entrepreneurship and collaborative science. In today’s funding environment interdisciplinary work reaps some of the greatest funding rewards.

I recently completed an executive leadership fellowship program for women leaders, where I had the opportunity to speak to the deans at all the Tufts schools. I learned that people are highly motivated to work together but there are barriers to collaboration. The true obstacles are financial and organizational. We need to find solutions to eliminate these barriers.

What steps will you take?

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research will be a place where researchers can explore and establish partnerships. It will host events such as research lightning rounds for bringing together potential Tufts collaborators who might not know about each other. There will be an expanded focus on communications about research and the tools researchers can use to highlight expertise on campus. Seed funding and initiatives will be strategic and focused on fostering entrepreneurship and collaboration. One of my goals is to double collaborative research grant submissions across the university.

What are your other priorities?

Increasing the efficiency and breadth of research operations. The Office of the Vice Provost for Research has made huge strides in research operations over the past several years. I will work with other vice provosts for research across the country, to bounce ideas around about how our offices work, and how we can become more efficient and more user-friendly. To be able to increase collaboration and bring in more funding, it is really critical to address the essential needs of operation.

What do you see as Tufts’ research strengths?

Tufts’ research strength is the unique constellation of diverse schools across its campuses and the numerous possibilities for synergy. Our research spans the humanities, the environment, technology, engineering, computer science, international law and diplomacy, and the health of humans and animals. Every day, Tufts faculty and students work on discoveries in areas as diverse as chronic diseases and data science, nutrition and neuroscience, robotics and renewable energy.

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research has identified research areas that Tufts is uniquely qualified to address in the next five to ten years: Climate, Food, Water & Energy; Comparative Global Humanities; Equitable Society; Living Technology; and One Health. One of my priorities will be to continue to facilitate and implement these research areas. It will be essential to capitalize on Tufts’ unique research strengths to sustain a robust research enterprise.

What lessons from your research career have stayed with you?

One of the most important lessons I have learned is to embrace diversity. My first faculty appointment was at Emory University, after which I moved to Morehouse School of Medicine. These two institutions were quite distinct from a diversity perspective and the transition opened my eyes to the benefits of inclusion and diversity.

The benefits of surrounding myself with diverse opinions and thoughts and gathering the best of ideas from people with different backgrounds and insights is a lesson I learned well. I would advise younger researchers to always be open to interacting with others who are not like you, who do not think like you. Diversity of thought will benefit you in the end.

Julie Flaherty can be reached at julie.flaherty@tufts.edu.