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Leadership Q&A with
Dr. Joan Conaway

Around Campus

Portrait of Joan Conaway in her lab
Joan Conaway, Ph.D.

Joan Conaway, Ph.D., joined UT Southwestern last summer as Vice Provost and Dean of Basic Research. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, she has dedicated her career to tackling the puzzle of transcription, the first step in creating proteins in which DNA is written into another chemical form called RNA.

In her role at UT Southwestern, she leads basic biomedical research that shapes our fundamental knowledge about the world and supports the Medical Center’s position at the forefront of innovation.

What brought you to UT Southwestern?

I was drawn by UTSW’s tradition of research excellence and collegiality that fosters an environment conducive to discovery, where scientists celebrate each other’s success. My strong research background and knowledge position me to guide the expansion and coordination of core resources and facilities needed to support state-of-the-art biomedical investigations and keep UTSW at the forefront of innovation. It is tremendously satisfying for me to be in a position where I can support faculty, staff, and students and ensure that we have the resources, leading-edge facilities, and colleagues needed to ensure UTSW is the best place in the world to do science.

How does basic research drive innovation?

Basic research seeks to discover and understand the genes, proteins, and pathways responsible for fundamental processes of life. Human diseases result from defects in these processes, and discoveries from basic research provide an essential foundation for understanding and treating these diseases.

What do you hope to accomplish?

The combination of my experience – both as a scientist and mentor – is key to my new role. As Dean of Basic Research, I aim to work with scientific leadership to propel UT Southwestern’s research enterprise forward, both by building upon existing strengths in laboratory-based investigation and seizing opportunities to move in new directions that keep the institution at the forefront of biomedical research.

One area of emphasis is bioinformatics, the subdiscipline of biology and computer science focused on acquiring, storing, analyzing, and disseminating biological data. Technologies such as advanced imaging and genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics all generate huge amounts of data. Many opportunities in science today come from the ability to leverage and interpret these large data sets, and to do that requires significant investment in computational hardware as well as people – additional faculty members with expertise in computational biology and data sciences, postdoctoral fellows, and students interested in the growing field. Ensuring that UT Southwestern has the right combination of tools and manpower will be an important part of my job.

Another critical factor is to continue to expand diversity at all levels of basic science. As one of only a few women administrating basic research at a U.S. academic medical center, I provide crucial representation for other women in the sciences. Continuing to increase the number of underrepresented minorities at all levels at UTSW is another priority for advancing science here and beyond.

Dr. Conaway holds the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair in Cellular and Molecular Biology.