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Signature Strengths

June 27, 2013

I opened my lab in the Cancer Center at Vanderbilt on St. Patrick’s Day in 1995, and remember thinking what a “lucky” date to move into a lab. I never imagined that 12 years later I would be leading one of the nation’s premier cancer centers.

When I was asked to be interim director in 2007, I agreed as I thought it was critical to move the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center forward during a time of leadership transition. I did not have my eyes on the permanent position as I had a very full life—I ran a lab with a significant research portfolio, was associate director for basic science and translational research programs, and had a 2-year-old son at the time.

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D. Photo by Joe Howell.

However, during the interim year, it was a privilege to work with our exceptional investigators, physicians, nurses and staff to meet the needs of patients and families in our local, regional and national communities. I enjoyed the teamwork involved in moving the research goals forward. I appreciated the opportunities to steward those in our community, who have and continue to be integral to the Center and its mission. And I was inspired by the faculty and staff who are passionate about what they do and give so much for the cause. I realized it was a major privilege to serve the community through the role of director and accepted the permanent position.

Since its inception, our signature strengths at Vanderbilt-Ingram have been creativity, collaboration and respect. Because of that culture, we are able to make significant discoveries and translate them rapidly to the clinic and community. We have figured out how to work together with others locally and nationally and leverage our collective strengths toward one goal—reducing cancer suffering and death.

This year, as Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center celebrates its 20th anniversary, it is a tremendous honor to be its leader for almost a third of its history and see that our phenomenal patient care, research and unique culture continue today.

Of course this celebration also comes at a time of great uncertainty in the federal budget. For decades, the National Institutes of Health have underwritten the majority of the research enterprise in the U.S. To lead into the future, we have to be more creative as well as realistic and rely on other sources of research funding. VICC has always had extraordinary support from community partners, and we use this 20th anniversary as a time to thank all of those partners who have been essential to carrying out our mission.

Even with the uncertainties, we believe that good ideas and creative approaches will still be funded. We will continue to collaborate and make discoveries that will have impact for our patients and change the face of cancer for decades to come. That was the vision of the Cancer Center’s founders 20 years ago, and it is realized today in ways they could never have imagined.



-Jennifer Pietenpol