Robert E. Pollack

Founding Director

Robert Pollack, Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences, graduated from Columbia College in 1961 and joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1978. His laboratory research focused on the potential clinical utility of his discovery of that cancer cells were capable of stable reversion from the oncogenic phenotype (see Pollack et al. 1968, PNAS).  Other laboratories have begun to apply his discovery to the development of novel forms of cancer chemotherapy. As a result, his early research continues to be referenced in research articles (see Joo et al. 2023, Advanced Science).

He was a Postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Howard Green at NYU Medical Center from 1966-1969; a research scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1969-70; a senior scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory from 1970 to 1975; and an associate professor of microbiology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook from 1975 until he joined the faculty of the Biological Sciences Department as a Professor in 1978.

In 1982 he became the first Jewish Dean of an Ivy College, when he was chosen to be the twelfth Dean of Columbia College.  As Dean, he oversaw the successful transition of Columbia college to a full coeducation while also increasing the diversity of the College through fundraising to support a full financial aid policy.

He stepped down and returned to his laboratory and his Professorship in 1989.  His teaching focused on the application of knowledge of the natural world to problems that require decisions that cannot be based solely on such data-driven knowledge.  Beginning in the late 1990s, he set aside lab work in order to write a series of books (see Signs of Life, The Missing Moment, and The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith).

In 2010 he became the fifth Director of the University Seminars, and in 2016 he established the Research Cluster on Science and Society within the Columbia University Center for Science and Society

As an Emeritus Professor, he remains active as an author and an advisor to students in the RCSS, as well as continuing to co-chair the University Seminar on Science and Subjectivity, and he continues to learn from his colleagues of all ages. He may be reached at [email protected].