McArdle 'Blog' photoMcArdle Blog L7 ~ 10/23/2013

Faculty Interview with Dr. James Shull: Behind the scenes of McArdle management

Dr. James Shull (pronounced like hull with an ‘S’ in front) has been the Director of the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research since September 1, 2009. He was “proud and pleased” to accept the position after speaking with McArdle luminaries including Drs. Bill Dove, Amy Moser, and Michael Gould. Since then Dr. Shull has been working hard on his goal of maintaining the status of the McArdle Laboratory within “the top tier of cancer research institutions”.

"McArdle was an extraordinary institution and I believe it still is exceptional. We have an incredible group of people from faculty on down to the students, the post-docs, and the staff.” But he admits “our competition has gotten much stronger in the decades since the McArdle Laboratory was founded”.

So what were his priorities and visions for McArdle when he first joined? How have they changed since? And what does he feel his biggest influence has been on the McArdle Laboratory since his joining? We sat down with him to find out.

Dr. Shull explains that “Because of the unique history of McArdle, many of the faculty were hired around the same time and are now approaching retirement, so it was clear from the very beginning there would have to be resources and time invested in recruiting junior faculty. I recognized this as both a challenge and an opportunity. The process had started before I came, and has been ongoing and very successful.”

McLean L.I.F.E. donation photo

Besides his successful efforts in recruiting junior faculty (most recently Nathan Sherer), Dr. Shull is also proud of his contributions toward helping promote faculty through the academic ranks and recruiting UW faculty members like Dr. Shigeki Miyamoto from other departments.

One thing Dr. Shull was not expecting when he first accepted the position as director was that “the fiscal climate would continue to get worse. I was hoping it was closer to being at the bottom”. However, Dr. Shull does realize that “it is not just our department. This is affecting every department in every institution. We have to watch every penny”.

“We would all like to believe that there’s money available.” Dr. Shull continues, “Time will tell if there is, and if we will be successful in recruiting any of that money. But I believe strongly in every investigator in this building; that they have the ability to compete, on an international scale, for these resources. So we would be best served if we remain focused on what we do really well. And that is research”.

VeronaH.S. Fundraiser photo

Admitting that he has given a lot of thought to what he would do if McArdle had access to more funds, he states “If we had the resources that I’d like to see us have, I would try to use it to match dollar-for-dollar every dollar that an investigator can bring in from the outside. If somebody were to get an R01 funded, I’d love it if we can match that. We wouldn’t try to duplicate any peer review system, but we’d just say you go get it, we’re right there with you”. He acknowledges the need “to maintain what we’ve built and try to position ourselves so we are in a good position to move forward at every opportunity”.

Speaking of moving forward, we next discussed McArdle’s imminent move to the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research (WIMR) Tower II. Dr. Shull admits “I like [McArdle]. As beat up as it is, it still feels like home. But it has really approached the point where it’s non-functional as a research building. So it is going to be in our best interest to move”. He likes the enhancements made in the design for Tower II versus Tower I, and one thing he is very proud of was being able “to negotiate with the Dean to get us two floors in WIMR Tower II, one above the other. For many reasons I think that is a better plan than the previous arrangement, which was one floor in Tower I and one floor in Tower II”.

He also acknowledges that the move to WIMR will undoubtedly be a big inconvenience for everybody, with one of the bigger challenges being moving the research animals. Outside of that, the University has people who will work to make it possible to move without missing a day’s worth of work. And while we do not have much say in what will ultimately happen to the physical structure that is the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research (constructed in 1964), the Oncology department will have some satellite labs in the building until such time as certain ongoing research experiments are completed.

Ultimately, following in the footsteps of previous directors Drs. Henry Pitot (1972-1991) and Norman Drinkwater (1992-2008), Dr. Shull has big shoes to fill. And now almost 5 years into his term, he is on his way to making his mark as Director of the McArdle Laboratory. And for a man whose name is derived from the Germanic Schüler - meaning schoolteacher - that is very fitting indeed!

~Saja Fakhraldeen