New Bioinformatics and Genomics Chair Looks To Capitalize on Program's Strengths

New chair George Perry is considering opportunities for expanded partnerships that will build on the solid foundations already in place in the BG program.

New BG Chair George Perry

For the first time in almost a decade, the Bioinformatics and Genomics graduate program will enter the academic year without Cooduvalli Shashikant at the helm. The Associate Professor of Molecular and Developmental Biology⁠—"Shashi," as he is almost universally known to students and colleagues—has retired after two decades at Penn State and nine years in charge of the BG program.

Stepping into the role of program chair is Dr. George "PJ" Perry, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Biology. Perry, who has been a faculty member at Penn State since 2011, became involved with the BG program almost immediately upon arriving at University Park. Since then, he's served as an instructor for various Bioinformatics and Genomics courses, a member the program admissions committee, a member of the CBIOS training grant advisory committee, and as advisor or committee member for a number of the program's graduate students.

"Dr. Perry has been an active leader in interdisciplinary graduate training and research in the life sciences at Penn State," said Troy Ott, Associate Director for Graduate Education at the Huck Institutes. "His strong and growing research reputation, along with his ability to build and work with teams of faculty, make him an ideal person to lead this growing program. I am looking forward to working with PJ and the rest of the Bioinformatics and Genomics faculty to continue to grow this program to meet the high demand for scientists trained in broad areas of computational, evolutionary, and functional genomics."

He added: "We are grateful for Dr. Shashikant's dedication over many years to build the BG program. His work has been innovative and student-centered. We wish him the best of luck in his retirement."

"Shashi has done an amazing job," agreed Perry. "He's grown the program, cultivated this great community, and played a substantial role in helping to establish multiple NIH-affiliated training grant programs. Everyone associated with BG would agree that we have so much for which we can be grateful to Shashi."

Coming in as chairperson, Perry says he intends to build on the program's recognized successes: a strong computational component and a thriving ecosystem of researchers and collaborators. "At its core, the Bioinformatics and Genomics program is an interdisciplinary student training program, but part of the great success in that training comes from interaction with the broader, interconnected Bioinformatics and Genomics community comprised not only of BG program faculty but also other students, postdocs, and researchers affiliated with their labs," said Perry. "It's a great, high-functioning program that brings people together from across multiple campuses."

"I do have some future development ideas for the program, but the students and that broader community are the program, with everyone having input into that decision-making process. One exciting opportunity we have is to build on our already-strong relationships with partners outside of academia—for example, via expanded research partnerships and student internships with the many companies who are performing bioinformatics and genomics analyses and who employ some of our great former students. I would also like to continue to emphasize our connections with the health and medical sciences."

Perry underlined his statements by reaffirming the program's strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, saying "This is something critically important to me as the program chair. The BG program has already become a leader with our approach. This is a first principle that extends well beyond recruitment, into training for everyone in program and into the way we operate in general."