Faculty member in three dimensions

June 20, 2011

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Our Biostatistics department organized a Festschrift in Fall ’09 to celebrate the career of Gary Koch, PhD, Professor of Biostatistics. Gary’s former students came from all over the world to join in the often touching events to celebrate Gary. Last Friday, Peggy Glenn and I had tea with Gary and his lovely family. It was fun to hear Gary and family talk about his early days as a young faculty member based in Trailer 39, a time in which the School was small enough that most people knew each other, not just at the School but also socially. Faculty, staff and students worked hard but enjoyed the work and one another. They knew each other’s families, played baseball and traveled together. They too were a family. Students have told stories about their breakfast meetings with him, and the advice he dished out over grits, bacon and eggs. John Preisser tells a funny story about how in his first meeting with Gary, as a student, Gary looked down at him (Gary being very tall) and drolly mentioned that students usually take notes during their meetings with him. These stories, Gary’s own stories and observations about Gary by colleagues like Dennis Gillings, are in a series of papers being published from the Festschrift and a video in both short and long form. I am grateful that an outstanding faculty member like Gary was willing to be interviewed and his story told for posterity.

Gary Koch, PhD

Gary Koch, PhD

I want our students and others to be more aware of our faculty members as real people with interesting lives and their own dreams and challenges.

Gary’s dedication to students is legendary. Hearing former students’ stories of his transformative feedback made me think back to my own mentors. One of the most important early in my academic career was Larry Green, DrPH, head of the program I attended at Johns Hopkins. At the end of my first year, before he left Hopkins to take a position in the then-new federal office of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Larry helped me see how I could become a more critical consumer of the scientific literature. I remembered and benefited from that advice a lot more than the praise and platitudes I often got from others. We are still friends and colleagues. I believe most students want to grow, and most employees want to perform well. What people often lack is the how-to information about how to get there. A good mentor can provide that.

No matter how difficult things are, and it’s been a tough time with extreme budget cuts looming, I am invigorated by our outstanding faculty members. Hope you have had good mentors and teachers.

Happy Monday. Barbara

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.