Whitehead Institute Welcomes Ruth Lehmann as its Fifth Director

Ruth Lehmann, a woman with short hair, smiles wearing a red scarf.

Ruth Lehmann, a world renowned developmental and cell biology researcher, will be Whitehead Institute’s fifth Director. 

Image: NYU Langone Staff


July 1, 2020

Whitehead Institute is delighted to welcome world-renowned developmental and cell biologist Ruth Lehmann to Whitehead Institute as its new director. Below is a version of the letter she shared with the Institute earlier today. To read more about her research and leadership prior to coming to Whitehead Institute, please visit her page here.  This letter was sent to the Whitehead Institute community from incoming director Ruth Lehmann on July 1, 2020. 


Dear Members of the Whitehead Community,

Today marks a new beginning for me, as I assume the directorship of Whitehead Institute, but also a homecoming of sorts: a return to a place that was a crucial part of my training and early research, and my own journey as a scientist. This transition comes at a moment of profound and overlapping global and national challenges as well as important movements for change: the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and brought grief to countless millions more, widespread protests against systemic racism, and record joblessness. Yet, and in part because of these issues, I am excited to be joining Whitehead Institute at this key inflection point because of the continued importance of basic science research now more than ever. I welcome the opportunity and the concomitant challenge of championing scientific discovery in a research environment that not only supports, but encourages risk taking, while fostering and supporting—intellectually, financially and on a personal level—a culture of excellence.

Whitehead Institute has benefited greatly from the leadership and vision of David Page. I know you join me in recognizing the significant accomplishments that have taken place during David’s tenure as director, from recruiting the best and brightest faculty, building and expanding high-performing core facilities, and, importantly, by supporting the research efforts with a responsive, flexible and knowledgeable administrative team. With this strong foundation in place, I arrive dedicated to furthering Whitehead’s bold, independent, and impactful research and to train the next generation of scientific leaders with a commitment to diversity, mentoring, and support. With our broad research mandate and ‘can do’ spirit, we are positioned to be agile and responsive in today’s changing landscape.

Science teaches us the importance of being nimble and the value of challenging dogma – it is the foundation that has made research at Whitehead Institute so powerful and impactful way beyond its physical borders. It is my aim to embolden you—whatever your role at the Institute-to think bigger, to reach higher, and to broaden your horizons. I will encourage you to take risks and pursue big questions.

It is an incredible privilege to be a scientist – personally, I’ve never really thought about it as a job. Being a scientist at Whitehead sets the bar high because we can provide opportunities to follow our own ideas. I fully believe that we can make a difference by pursuing fundamental principles of life that will create lasting impact for human health and our environment. As an Institute, we are part of a community, so our fearless and innovative institute should be a galvanizing partner way beyond our brick and mortar borders. Together we will reach out across science, medicine, and biotech to share and create knowledge.

We learn from life to make discoveries that improve life. And in this time of challenge and upheaval, these lessons are more important than ever to bring about change, foster understanding, and expand opportunity.

I look forward to working with and learning from all of you the community.


Ruth Lehmann
Director, Whitehead Institute

Whitehead Institute is a world-renowned non-profit research institution dedicated to improving human health through basic biomedical research.
Wholly independent in its governance, finances, and research programs, Whitehead shares a close affiliation with Massachusetts Institute of Technology
through its faculty, who hold joint MIT appointments.

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