“Stanford Loses Star Stem Cell Researcher to Montana State University” was the headline of an article published in the “California Stem Cell Report” in October 2013. Stanford’s star researcher, Renee Reijo Pera, is the new vice president for research and economic development at MSU.
The position, which was held by Dr. Tom McCoy until he left in July, was previously called the Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer. It has now been changed to Vice President for Research and Economic Development. Pera said the name change does not affect the work done in the job, but does emphasize an important aspect of the job that was not previously included. “The name is important because research is really linked to economic development … When students graduate from MSU we hope that they’ll find great jobs because we’ve done a good job on building our economy around the university,” Pera said.
She took an optimistic approach when discussing the research future at MSU, despite next years budget facing over $3.5 million in cuts. “My No.1 goal is to make sure we maintain the Carnegie classification as a very high research intensive university. We’re one of the 108 universities in that category and I don’t want to see us lose that. We have to expand our research and bring in more funding,” she said.
Along with maintaining the Carnegie Classification, Pera believes a request for proposals will bring along more improvements. “With a request for proposals, we can decide what direction we want the research to go in and then we will have an inventory. I hope someday we can see that no idea goes unfunded.”
Investing in senior scientists is another one of her goals to further research at MSU, “there are a few areas where we could move ahead much more quickly if we had key senior scientists in certain positions,” she said.
Pera emphasized the importance of research by listing a few of its key benefits. Her first reason being how research benefits education. “I don’t believe that students can get the best education unless they are involved in research and creative activities … unless they have worked on something where the answer is unknown, and you have to push up against a wall and figure it out,” Pera said.
The second benefit, according to Pera, is that research contributes to faculty satisfaction which is important for faculty retention, which is imperative to the success of MSU.
Lastly, she cited how important it is for the current generation of students to excel. “It is my hope that the people here can embrace the methodology to solve the problems and that is often found in pushing the boundaries during the college years … this is your world; you need to change it and you need to know how to change it.”
Pera is an internationally recognized scientist for her research in stem cell biology and human reproduction. Pera’s research has been cited in Time Magazine’s list of the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2010 and in 2006 Newsweek listed her as one of the “20 influential women in America.”
She has no shortage of experience in research and higher education. Pera began her education with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at Superior, a master’s degree in entomology from Kansas State University, a doctorate in biochemistry from Cornell University and a postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She worked for ten years at UC San Francisco and then joined Stanford in 2007.
In addition to being a professor and researcher, Pera was the director of Stanford’s Center for Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research and Education and the Center for Reproductive and Stem Cell Biology. Pera’s lab, which focuses on stem cell biology, is being moved to MSU so she is able to continue her research
Leaving Stanford was a difficult decision for her to make. She had an endowed chair at Stanford, so her salary was covered for the rest of her life and would never come up for tenure or review. Her love for state universities was part of her motivation for coming to MSU. Pera also felt she had more potential to benefit MSU, “One of the lessons I have learned in life is that you should go where you’re needed. I can contribute to the success of this institution with what I have learned,” she said.