Fink ’62 Bioscience Symposium Attracts Unconvential Majors to Expanding Medical Field
By Amro El-Adle ’13, Editor-in-Chief
The third-annual Gerald R. Fink ’62 Bioscience Symposium pulled more than 100 students back to campus a little early from their winter breaks, as they trekked back to campus to discuss stem cell research with alumni from a broad base of medical professions.

Organized by Fink and fellow classmate George W. Carmany III, with direction from the Biology department, the symposium is designed to appeal to Amherst students with a variety of medically-related interests.

Speakers included Curt Civin ’70, Professor of Pediatrics and Physiology at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, Rudolf Jaenisch, Professor of Biology at M.I.T. and Claudia Kalb ’85, a senior writer at Newsweek.

Seeking to both capitalize and expand upon the broad base of students at Amherst to whom a profession related to medicine might appeal, the symposium encourages the debate and discussion of cutting-edge issues — stem cells this year, health care last — between students and the speakers.

The College, long renowned for an outstanding record in graduating medical professionals, “is a great incubator for physicians, so we have a good alumni base to call upon,” according to Prof. Ethan Clotfelter, the chair of the Biology department.

But far from focusing exclusively on students majoring in the sciences, the symposium encouraged the participation of students with a variety of interests, including economics, political science and mathematics.

“Healthcare issues are so pervasive, both in the healthcare sector and the economy, and these are subjects that should be of great interest to students from many fields,” Carmany said.

The symposium also emphasized the various inroads to the medical profession available to students of the College. Kalb, who majored in English before taking a year to travel the world, has become a syndicated science writer, garnering several journalism awards and fellowships along the way.

Senior Felix Horns, a Biology major, explained how the symposium helped him explore non-traditional avenues into different aspects of the medical industry: “I plan to pursue not medicine but basic biological research. The talks imparted a basic understanding of the state-of-the-art in stem cell research, which influenced my thinking about the field of research that I wish to pursue.”

This year, for the first time since its inception, the symposium spanned only a single day to foster interaction between the students and speakers. The symposium was also held over Interterm to help circumvent potential scheduling conflicts coinciding with the start of the semester.

“The open panel discussion was also valuable because it presented an opportunity to learn the speakers’ opinions on a wide range of issues related to stem cell research and, generally, the relationship between science and society,” Horns said.

The symposium, organized by members of the class of ’62 as an intellectual gift to the College for their class’ 50th reunion, was named in Fink’s for his seminal work exploring the transformation in fungi. A founding member of M.I.T.’s Whitehead Institute and its director from 1990-2001, Fink has also been awarded several prestigious awards by the scientific community, in addition to founding two biotechnology companies.

Carmany, on the other hand, held a senior position with American Express Company before going on to found his own company, an advisory business in financial services and life sciences.

“What we had hoped to do with this program is to show Amherst students that alumni of the College have received various distinctions in healthcare and are more than willing to come back to share their experiences and provide networking opportunities as well as internships,” Carmany said.

Issue 12, Submitted 2011-01-26 03:47:25