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Stancel (George M.), Ph,D, Oral History Interview: Home

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Interview Profile

 

Submitted: 3 June 2014

 

Interview Information:

Two interview sessions: 24 January 2012 and 29 February 2012
Total approximate duration: 4 hours
Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

 

For supplementary materials:

Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:

Javier Garza, MSIS, jjgarza@mdanderson.org

 

About the Interview Subject:

Dr. George M. Stancel (b. 1944,Chicago, Illinois) was recruited in 1972 to help establish the new University of Texas Medical School.  Dr. Stancel is a Professor in the UT Medical School’s Departments of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology, and Gynecologic Oncology. 

His research has focused on hormones, estrogenicity and carcinogenicity, and mechanisms to predict susceptibility to uterine cancers.  He has served as Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences of the University of Texas Health Science Center since 1999).  In 2011 he was appointed Executive Vice President for Academic and Research Affairs of UT Health Sciences Center.  

 

Major Topics Covered:

Personal and educational background

Research: estrogen and uterine cancer

Transformation of laboratory science and laboratory technologies

Early years of the University of Texas Medical School; Building the Department of  Pharmacology

Biomedical education, curriculum-building, ethics

The Graduate School of Biomedical Science

Role as Executive VP of Academic and Research Affairs     

Leadership in multi-institution environments; multi-institution programs

The first uterine SPORE

Leading faculty; building collaborations

 

Regarding the Transcript and Audio Files

In accordance with oral history best practices, this transcript was intentionally created to preserve the conversational language of the interview sessions.  (Language has not been edited to conform to written prose).

The interview subject was given the opportunity to review the transcript.  Any requested editorial changes are indicated in brackets [ ], and the audio file has not correspondingly altered. 

Redactions to the transcript and audio files may have been made in response to the interview subject’s request or to eliminate personal health information in compliance with HIPAA.


 

Table of Contents

 

Interview Session One: 24 January 2012

 

An Early Start on a Research Path and Critical Thinking
Chapter 01 / Educational Path

 

Building a Department of Pharmacology in the New UT Medical School
Chapter 02 / Building the Institution

 

A Brief History of the Texas Medical Center and MD Anderson
Chapter 03 / Building the Institution

 

The Graduate School of Biomedical Science: Creating A Unique Approach to Biomedical Education
Chapter 04 / Building the Institution

 

Developing an Administrative Track and Dealing with Multiple Institutional Connections
Chapter 05 / The Administrator

 

Building Curricula and Leveraging Institutional Connections to Create Educational Opportunities 
Chapter 06 / Education

 

Interview Session Two: 29 February 2012

 

Current Challenges in Biomedical Education: Duration of Degree Programs and Mentoring
Chapter 07 / An Institutional Unit

 

Issues in Graduate Education: Attracting and Retaining Women in the Graduate School; The Future of Biomedical Education
Chapter 08 / An Institutional Unit

 

Evolution of Research on Estrogen and Sweeping Changes in Biomedical Science
Chapter 09 / The Researcher

 

The First Uterine SPORE Grant
Chapter 10 / The Researcher

 

The First Course in Ethics
Chapter 11 / Building the Institution

 

Executive Vice President of Academic and Research Affairs
Chapter 12 / The Administrator

 

Proud of Teaching; A Goal of Maximizing Intellectual Cooperation Between UT Institutions
Chapter 13 / Character and Personal Philosophy


Chapter Summaries

Interview Session One: 24 January 2012 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00A
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 01 (Educational Path)
An Early Start on a Research Path and Critical Thinking (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Personal Background
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • The Researcher
  • On Research and Researchers

In this segment, Dr. Stancel sketches the experiences that inspired him to pursue science and shaped his attitudes about education.  After tracing his own educational track through chemistry, to biochemistry, to physiology, and to a first faculty appointment in pharmacology he concludes: “If you get good training as a doctor of philosophy you are trained to think critically and that skill in experimental work transfers to a lot of different fields.”  He reflects on how key critical thinking skills are to the contemporary researcher –a recurring theme in these sessions and a keystone in his philosophy of education.

 

Chapter 02 (Building the Institution)
Building a Department of Pharmacology in the New UT Medical School (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • The Researcher
  • Professional Path
  • The Professional at Work
  • Collaborations
  • Leadership
  • On the Nature of Institutions
  • Personal Background

In this segment, Dr. Stancel notes that his research path in endocrinology evolved at the time when the link between estrogen and cancer was first demonstrated.  (He will speak in detail about his research in Session II.)  Here, he focuses on his recruitment (in 1972) to help build a Department of Pharmacology in the brand new UT Medical School.  He gives a vivid picture of this unique enterprise: building every dimension of a new school and new academic venture.  He talks about the teamwork and trust required as the new faculty met an array of challenges, noting also that he immediately struck up connections with MD Anderson Cancer Center.  Talking about this “remarkable time,” he brings alive the social life of the medical professionals (and their families) as they devoted themselves to building the new school. 

 

Chapter 03 (Building the Institution)
A Brief History of the Texas Medical Center and MD Anderson (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • The Researcher
  • MD Anderson History
  • This is MD Anderson
  • Building/Transforming the Institution

In this segment, Dr. Stancel sketches the history of the Texas Medical Center and MD Anderson (and how they came to be located in Houston) and clarifies the administrative relationships between the UT System, the UT Health Science Center, the Texas Medical Center, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and MD Anderson.

 

Chapter 04 (Building the Institution)
The Graduate School of Biomedical Science: Creating A Unique Approach to Biomedical Education (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • Multi-disciplinary Approaches
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Education
  • Evolution of Career
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Collaborations
  • Leadership
  • Mentoring
  • The Educator
  • Beyond the Institution
  • MD Anderson and Government

In this segment Dr. Stancel talks about the environment of young institutions in place when he came to Texas in the Seventies. He talks about the founding of the Graduate School and recalls R. Lee Clark’s vision of researchers in basic sciences working alongside clinical researchers and those delivering patient care (an early version of translational research).  He observes that to bring this environment into being in the GSBS, the faculty faced dual challenges: building careers and defining the identity of an institution made unique by its relationship to a cancer center and a mission to promote interdisciplinary communication among cancer scientists from many areas.  Dr. Stancel describes how the GSBS preserves interdisciplinary breadth of education while developing programs with focal points defined by faculty interests.  He sketches the major tasks of the GSBS during each decade of its existence, focusing in particular on the challenge of lobbying the Texas legislature to allow the MD Anderson to award graduate degrees jointly with the Health Science Center --the first instance, Dr. Stancel, notes, of a dedicated cancer center becoming a degree-granting institution.

 

Chapter 05 (The Administrator)
Developing an Administrative Track and Dealing with Multiple Institutional Connections (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • The Administrator
  • The Leader
  • Evolution of Career
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • The Professional at Work
  • Leadership
  • The Professional at Work
  • MD Anderson History
  • Understanding the Institution

Dr. Stancel discusses his administrative track during the last forty minutes.  He traces his various roles in the Medical School, culminating in his GSBS Deanship (’99), an appointment that made him “the Dean for everybody,” both Dr. John Mendelsohn, president of MD Anderson, and Dr. David Low, president of the Health Science Center.  He talks about the process of winning degree-granting status for MD Anderson.  He tells a story to illustrate the kinds of dilemmas he works with as a Dean who must collaborate with multiple institutions. Dr. Stancel gives an overview of his responsibilities: reviewing of programs, building enrollments, improving academic planning processes, and integrating young faculty more effectively into their roles.

 

Chapter 06 (Education)
Building Curricula and Creating Educational Opportunities by Leveraging Institutional Connections (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • Beyond the Institution
  • MD Anderson and Government
  • Education
  • Leadership
  • Collaborations

In this segment, Dr. Stancel first talks about leveraging regional resources for biomedical education with training grants that draw build on the Gulf Coast Consortium (formed to broaden the educational/research resources available to students at six regional institutions).  He then talks about the unique features of the education offered at the Graduate School.

 

Interview Session Two: 29 February 2012 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00B
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 07 (An Institutional Unit)
Current Challenges in Biomedical Education: Duration of Degree Programs and Mentoring (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • The Educator
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research
  • Growth and/or Change
  • Mentoring
  • On Mentoring
  • On Education

In this segment, Dr. Stancel first explains why the time to get a PhD in the biomedical sciences has increased and then talks about how the Graduate School is addressing the (national) challenge of reducing the length of time required to earn this degree.  He then moves to the related issue of changes in mentoring of graduate students. 

 

Chapter 08 (An Institutional Unit)
Issues in Graduate Education: Attracting and Retaining Women in the Graduate School; The Future of Biomedical Education (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • Women and Minorities at Work
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Mentoring
  • On Education
  • Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research
  • On Research and Researchers
  • Personal Background

In this segment, Dr. Stancel first observes that women had difficulty finding mentors in the early years of the GSBS (and recounts how the newly-created UT Medical School wanted to compete for the best students with more established schools and so actively recruited women and tailored courses to what were perceived to be women’s learning/working style).  He explains discussing why the GSBS must have “a much deeper conversation with itself” about preparing students for careers outside of academia and how to foster innovation and creativity.  At the end of this segment he mentions various books dealing with innovation and medical education.

 

Chapter 09 (The Researcher)
Evolution of Research on Estrogen and Sweeping Changes in Biomedical Science (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • The Researcher
  • Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research
  • Cultural/Social Influences
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • MD Anderson History
  • Discovery and Success
  • Technology and R&D
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Discovery and Success
  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations

Dr. Stancel next turns to his own research linking estrogen and uterine cancer.  During his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana he worked in the “hot contemporary area” of hormone mechanisms.  He summarizes the shift in thinking about hormones at the time and the innovations that enabled detailed investigation of these substances and their relationship to cancer.  Dr. Stancel was recruited for his work on steroid hormone action.  He gives a vivid description of how technical innovations completely transformed his laboratory between 1972 and 2000.  He describes several of the projects undertaken in his lab, including attempts to distinguish estrogenicity and carcinogenicity, successful demonstrations that hormones such as insulin and thyroid hormone would effect how a female animal would respond to estrogen, and work on mechanisms to predict susceptibility to uterine cancers.  Dr. Stancel offers a lively anecdote of how the lab relied on-cutting edge equipment, such as  the RT-PCR --a first reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction processor, the first at the UT Medical Center (and one of the first in the nation –their processor had serial #8), which they shared with others.  At the end of this segment he describes the process of closing down his laboratory.

 

Chapter 10 (The Researcher)
The First Uterine SPORE Grant (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • Education
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • Collaborations
  • Discovery and Success
  • Multi-disciplinary Approaches

In this segment, Dr. Stancel talks his role (partnered with two junior faculty members at MD Anderson) on the first uterine SPORE grant (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) in the country. 

 

Chapter 11 (Building the Institution)
The First Course in Ethics (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • Overview
  • Education
  • Ethics
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work

In this segment, Dr. Stancel talks about his role on the Research Ethics Task Force.  He stresses that as far as he knows the Graduate School of Biomedical Science is the first institution to offer a course in ethics and to require it.  He explains why teaching ethics has been controversial, then talks about the plans to formally track the effect of this program and possible ethical dilemmas medical professionals will face.  He vividly describes some of the teaching methods.

 

Chapter 12 (The Administrator)
Executive Vice President of Academic and Research Affairs (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • The Administrator
  • On Leadership
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work

In this segment, Dr. Stancel talks about his role as Executive Vice President of Academic and Research Affairs for the Texas Health Science Center (appointed in 2011).   He observes that this high-level administrative work is much like “building a structure or a framework to help people” do their work more effectively and effortlessly.  He foresees that future collaborations between UT Health Sciences and MD Anderson (and other institutions) will become more important as these institutions deal creatively with budgetary constraints and share resources and expensive equipment.

 

Chapter 13 (Character and Personal Philosophy)
Proud of Teaching; A Goal of Maximizing Intellectual Cooperation Between UT Institutions (listen/read)

 

Story Codes

  • Personal Background
  • Career and Accomplishments
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • The Professional at Work

In this segment, Dr. Stances shares some of his private life and perspectives.  He talks about his long-time participation in the Ride for Multiple Sclerosis, a bike ride between Houston and Austin that hundred of people participate in, including many teams of Houston medical professionals.  Among his professional achievements, he is most proud of developing new educational programs from scratch or significantly modifying them.  He is also proud of having taught every single medical student who has come through the Texas Medical School, as well as teaching students in every school in the health science center, including graduate students at MD Anderson.  He concludes the interview with a snapshot of what he would like to achieve in his remaining time in administration: a maximization of intellectual cooperation between all the University of Texas components and other institutions in Houston.  He hopes that institutions might find ways of overcoming unhealthy rivalry and “build a better family” of biomedical intellectuals and institutions that might serve as “better stewards of public trust.”

 

Original Profile

 

 

This four-hour interview with gynecologic endocrinologist Dr. George M. Stancel, Ph.D. (b. 1944,Chicago, Illinois), takes place in two session on 24 January 2012 and 29 February 2012.  Dr. Stancel’s has had both a research and administrative career.  He is Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences of the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHC, appointed ’99).  In 2011 he was appointed Executive Vice President for Academic and Research Affairs of UTHC.  Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. conducts the interviews, which take place in a conference room in the Vice President’s office at the UTHC office tower near the main MD Anderson campus.

Dr. Stancel earned his B.S. in Chemistry at the College of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota (1966).  He earned his Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1970 at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan and went on to postdoctoral work in endocrinology in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Illinois, Urbana.  Dr. Stancel came to Houston in 1972 as an assistant professor of pharmacology, when he was recruited (for his “pioneering spirit”) to help establish the brand new University of Texas Medical School.  Dr. Stancel is a Professor in the UT Medical School’s Departments of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology, and Gynecologic Oncology.  When Dr. Stancel tells of coming to Houston to help build the new medical school, he notes that all of the individuals involved went on to high-level administrative roles. 

Dr. Stancel offers the perspective of a researcher dedicated to education with a unique experience in institution-building and development.  He talks about his research into estrogen and provides vivid descriptions of the transformation of laboratory science since the mid-seventies.  Dr. Stancel has also had an impact on education and discusses curricula-building, educational philosophy and its practice at the Graduate School of Biomedical Science.  He provides an interesting view of the inner working of institutions at all phases of their development.  He is candid and complete in his responses and offers many vivid stories inflected with humor.