Tinker, sailor, Golgi, sly
James D. Jamieson, M.D., Ph.D., has spent a career dividing his time among so many responsibilities‒running a lab, directing a program, mentoring students, among others‒that it’s difficult to know how he found time for lunches with students in Marigolds or harbor tours on his sailboat. But Jamieson was always available to students in Yale’s M.D./Ph.D. program, which he directed for 32 years. “The thing I learned from Jim was the care and concern and gentleness with which he treated students,” said Michael Caplan, Ph.D. ’87, M.D. ’87, chair and the C. N. H. Long Professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, and professor of cell biology. Being a mentor, Caplan learned from Jamieson, is a large part of being a scientist.
When Jamieson, professor of cell biology, arrived at Yale in 1973, his task was to launch a cell biology department. (He would later spend eight years as its chair.) The following year he became director of Yale’s Medical Scientist Training Program, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and known as the M.D./Ph.D. program. The physician-turned-cell-biologist continued research he’d begun at The Rockefeller University under the guidance of Nobel laureate George Palade, M.D. He studied the mechanisms of secretion of proteins by the pancreatic acinar cell and other cell types. He closed his lab in 2001 to devote his attention to the M.D./Ph.D. program, known more colloquially as “mud/fud.”
During his tenure some 300 students graduated from the program; and with the recent expansion of the program from 12 to 20 students per year, M.D./Ph.D. students make up 20 percent of each medical school class. “This makes Yale’s program one of the largest nationally, reflecting Yale’s preeminence in the basic and clinical sciences,” Jamieson said. In addition, he said, electives that he started, such as one in translational medicine in pediatrics, “energize and feed positively into the med school curriculum.”
Susan J. Baserga, M.D. ’88, Ph.D. ’88, noted that Jamieson can think critically about research design with the same ease with which he runs admission committee meetings. Sam B. Sondalle, a fourth-year M.D./Ph.D. student in her lab, came to Yale in part because of Jamieson, said Baserga, professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, of genetics, and of therapeutic radiology. When he met Jamieson in December 2010, Sondalle said he was struck by Jamieson’s friendliness and his generosity in offering advice. When Jamieson learned about Sondalle’s interest in a rare genetic disease, he introduced him to Baserga as a potential research advisor. Given Baserga’s extensive experience in genetics, the match was a perfect fit, Sondalle said.
Caplan described Jamieson as down-to-earth and outgoing. “He had an extremely paternal‒in the best sense of the word‒connection to the program and students,” Caplan said, adding that Jamieson had a “nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts understanding of how to do experiments.” Jamieson’s lasting imprint on the program, Caplan said, is his devotion to students.
Barbara Kazmierczak, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, infectious diseases, and microbial pathogenesis, who became the program’s director last year, said she witnessed that devotion at a Christmas party at Jamieson’s house. Jamieson and his wife, Cynthia, stayed up late trading movie recommendations with a handful of students. “It was one of the moments when I realized they were embedded in the Yale community and really loved New Haven, and thought of students as family,” she said. “He has the curiosity that the best scientists have. And it extends to curiosity about people, motivations, and relationships.” Regarding his accomplishments, Kazmierczak highlighted a crucial decision that Jamieson made. Rather than wait until after they finish their Ph.D. training to begin the required 12 months of clinical clerkships, Jamieson decreed that M.D./Ph.D. students complete half their clerkships before beginning their graduate study. “With very few exceptions, students value this protected period of time when they see how the book learning translates into taking care of patients,” Kazmierczak said. “For some of them, the clerkship period informs the thesis they will do.”
Jamieson said he enjoys helping the M.D./Ph.D. students blow off steam by offering rides in his sailboat or helping out with student video parodies for the annual Second-Year Show‒for example a spoof on the Disney movie Frozen‒produced by the Class of 2017. Jamieson makes a sly cameo appearance in the show. Framed on the wall in his office is a photo of Jamieson with another class of students from earlier days. “For our fearless leader,” reads a sign next to the photo.
After more than 30 years, James Jamieson has retired as director of the M.D./Ph.D. program. Students and mentees remember his friendliness and generosity.