Letter from CSCI Director: 2020-2021 Year in Review

Dear Colleagues,

Another long year of pandemic-related adaptations for our program, but with some exciting developments and many things to look forward in the months to come. In any case, my heart goes to all of you that are affected personally and professionally by the pandemic and other inequalities, and I salute and associate to the effort undertaken by Columbia in adapting to those challenges and promoting diversity and inclusiveness.

CSCI Year 4 – A Recap

Despite the weariness associated with virtual events, CSCI has continued to be an active presence on campus with its dynamic research community, its rich array of programmatic activities, and the excellence of its core facilities. Our faculty membership has grown by ~ 8% compared to last year, with now 35 full members and 28 affiliated members on record, and a nicely balanced mix of gender and seniority levels. We have maintained a robust series of virtual events for the year (September 2020 to June 2021), which included 10 presentations by invited national and international guest speakers for our monthly seminar series, and 18 work-in-progress (WIP) sessions run by Dr. Joanna Smeeton along with Naveed Tavakol from Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic’s lab and Andrew Ressler from Michael Boland’s lab that featured presentations by 35 trainees from the program. We also held our 3rd CSCI Seed Fund Grant competition with the selection of Drs. Lei Ding, Shawn Liu, and Mijo Simunovic as recipients of this year’s awards, our lottery for NYSCF annual meeting complimentary attendance, and our annual scientific photo contest with the unveiling of the three selected pictures by Michael Shannon from Emily Mace’s Lab, Julia Mo from Joanna Smeeton’s Lab, and Peter M.J. Quinn from Stephen Tsang’s lab during our 2020 virtual Holiday Party in December. Unfortunately, we still had to cancel our in-person programmatic and community building activities, with the report one more time of our 2nd annual retreat, now rescheduled for October 11-12, 2021.

With the slow re-opening of the campus unfolding throughout the year, we all worked hard to provide a safe and productive work environment, and to mitigate the hardship of the pandemic. Within CSCI the focus was to help our three new faculty recruits, Drs. Joanna Smeeton (January 2020), Aaron Viny (September 2020) and Chia-Wei Cheng (January 2021) start their laboratories and launch their own research programs, while still providing resources to the rest of the community, and maintaining outstanding service from our two core facilities: Stem Cell Core directed by Dr. Barbara Corneo and Flow Cytometry Core lead by Mike Kissner. We also celebrated our first direct CSCI promotion this year, with Drs. Lei Ding and Barbara Corneo promoted to Associate Professor, and we are in the process of expanding our core facility operation to better serve the community with new team members and equipment added to both cores. I invite all of you to (e)visit us on the 11th floor of the Black building to get a sense of the thriving research community that is taking shape.

Within the broader Stem Cell community on campus, successes and challenges were in display throughout the year. Still, I am proud to report record numbers of individual fellowships for our postdocs and students, and new grants, publications, and awards for our faculty members. We have tried to capture most, if not all, of those successes on the News section of our website and I encourage all of you to contact our Program Manager, Ms. Lalena Luna, to continue highlighting the scientific might of our research community. Ms. Lalena Luna and Dr. Barbara Corneo also took the lead in developing further the CSCI trainee council, with new workshops and panel discussions being planned for the months to come that will add to the ongoing roster of activities managed by our trainees. Unfortunately, certain things did not go the way we were hoping they would, including the termination of the state funded NYSTEM program and the cancellation of their last round of grant applications, which I know many of you applied for. This really stresses the importance of continued policy advocacy, community outreach, and fundraising to further build and develop the resources of CSCI.

CSCI Year 5 - Looking Ahead

For the next academic year, my focus will be to continue supporting the three existing CSCI pillars (programmatic activities/scientific support/community support) and to add a strong education component. In particular, I will be planning the first internal advisory board (IAB)/external advisory board (EAB) evaluation of the Stem Cell Initiative, developing research clusters for P01 applications, and resuming new faculty recruitment to add to our community. This coming year, the focus will still be in co-recruitment with other Departments and Institutes to bring missing talents to Columbia, in particular with the Program for Mathematical Genomics (PMG) led by Dr. Raul Rabadan to extend our quantitative understanding of stem cell biology. Strong efforts will also be made in applying to T32 training grants to replace and add to our cancelled NYSTEM training grant, and to develop new stem cell courses to reinforce the education mission of CSCI. Finally, I will continue exploring all fundraising options, efforts that were halted by the pandemic but are essential to establish a resilient Stem Cell program with more scientific and community support, and to drive the planned expansion of CSCI to our committed space on VP&S11 as well as new space for new recruitments. Again, I cannot stress enough how much the participation of the entire Stem Cell community has been key for CSCI success, and how your involvement is vital for its future.

I wish you all a safe and productive year ahead and look forward to continuing working with all of you.






Introduction to the Columbia University Stem Cell Initiative