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'Cybercafé' Dedicated to Varmus

By Rich McManus

Photos by Ernie Branson

On the Front Page...

Nine months after concluding his 6-year tenure as NIH director, Dr. Harold Varmus returned to campus Sept. 18 for a warm homecoming in which the new Cybercafé for graduate students in Bldg. 10 was officially opened and dedicated in his honor.

"I'm very pleased to see this project completed, and very grateful to have this honor bestowed on me, especially while I'm still alive," said Varmus. "I'm also grateful for the speed with which it has happened."


Former NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus returns to open new Cybercafé.

Dressed somewhat uncharacteristically in a suit and tie — a signal that this was indeed a special occasion — Varmus, who is now president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said he was pleased on three counts to open the café: first, he said he had been obsessed, in discussions of campus master planning, with creating focal points on campus — "places where significant interactions occur." When he was an undergraduate at Amherst, he recounted, Valentine's Grill served that purpose, offering up a unique ambiance along with burgers and English muffins. Medical school, sadly, lacked any special locus, he noted, but the University of California at San Francisco, where he spent most of his research career prior to coming to NIH, boasted the Courtyard Café, a "patch of green that had a bakery and coffee." NIH, he said, "is a fairly rambling place, but the Clinical Center is still its heart," so the new café has the advantage of location in its bid to acquire charisma.

The second pleasing factor, Varmus said, is that the café "is focused around graduate students primarily, but also trainees of all kinds including postdocs, and high school students. I hope that the faculty will gather to meet here, too."

Dr. Charles Sanders (l), president of the board of the Foundation for the NIH, pulls cover off plaque honoring Varmus (c), as Dr. Paul Montrone, FNIH treasurer, looks on.

Finally, he emphasized the "cyber" nature of the place, with its promise — via computers offering Internet connection — of "free access to research literature. The message that's delivered to students is that the world could be at their fingertips." He hoped that authors using the space would contribute only to journals offering free access to their contents. He also acknowledged the importance of coffee: "Good coffee is essential to good science."

View lengthwise down the new Cybercafé shows plenty of room to schmooze.

"This is a great idea — I'm very happy that (NIH) has finally decided to acknowledge graduate students and foster more of a sense of community among them," said Aviva Jacobs, a grad student with NIDDK, now in her fifth year of training. She predicted that veterans like herself will probably use the place less than newcomers, for whom it will represent a welcome chance to interact.

"Basically, graduate students hang out in their labs," said Rachel Politove, an NIDDK graduate student who first came as a summer trainee in 1993, then began graduate school in fall 1996. "They're very isolated — the lab is their only interaction. The café will facilitate future graduate student activity."

On the east side of the Cybercafé, a lighted staircase descends the few steps from the coffee bar to the lounge area.

Deanna Buck, a graduate student at NINDS, lauded the Cybercafé opening as a sign that "graduate students will know that there's a place for them to go. So many people at NIH are unaware that we are here. This will give us a place to meet and share information."

The Cybercafé, an adjunct of the popular coffee bar in the Bldg. 10 lobby, is a short flight downstairs from the bar, and occupies what used to be the Visitor Information Center's Nobel Terrace, which had featured brief biographies of NIH grantees who went on to become laureates. The café is furnished with comfy chairs and sofas arranged around small tables, and has a sequestered nook for more private gatherings. Anyone — not just grad students — can tote a steaming cuppa into the café, but grad students have first dibs on reserving the space for meetings.

"Harold Varmus has done an enormous amount for graduate education at NIH — not a day went by that we didn't discuss some aspect of graduate education, and the need to do more for students here," said NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman, who emceed the ceremony.

The attractive new Graduate Lounge opens onto a landing on the staircase from the first floor to B1.

Also on the program were Charles Sanders, president of the board of the Foundation for the NIH, who came to honor Varmus' contributions in support of the foundation, and Dr. Paul Montrone, FNIH treasurer, whose company, Fisher Scientific International, Inc., helped pay for furnishings within the café. The FNIH board voted unanimously last March to dedicate the facility to Varmus; Sanders unveiled a dedicatory plaque, stating, "We are very grateful for your services."

While a proposed degree-granting graduate school here was eventually rejected, NIH has established a Graduate Program Partnerships Training Award for people seeking Ph.D. and master's degrees, and this fall launched the NIH Academy, a small cadre of postbaccalaureate research trainees who are motivated to focus on health disparities in the U.S. There are currently almost 200 graduate students on campus, a number that will slowly grow in coming years.

For more information on the partnerships program or graduate education, call 594-9605.

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