Congratulations to Berrie Center Co-Director Rudolph Leibel, MD, who was recently recognized by Columbia University Medical Center as a 2017 Mentor of the Year for his outstanding guidance and support of students, fellows and faculty. Beloved at the Berrie Center (Rudy to most), many colleagues and mentees, including geneticist and Associate Professor Wendy Chung, MD, Associate Professor Anthony Ferrante, MD, PhD and Professor Michael Rosenbaum, MD, wrote letters on behalf of Dr. Leibel, the Christopher J. Murphy Memorial Diabetes Research Professor at Columbia.
“His reductionist teaching conveys complex ideas with the clear, terse simplicity and enthusiasm that is the mark of a great educator,” said Dr. Rosenbaum, who along with Dr. Leibel, conducted much of the research that explains why it is even harder to keep weight off than it is to lose it in the first place. “Rudy’s excitement is infectious and many of his former mentees are now professors at major research centers around the world. Robert Frost, a poet whose work Rudy knows quite well, said that a truly inspiring teacher is one that gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies. Rudy has done this for everyone whom he has touched.”
“He has a unique method of teaching and guidance,” said Dr. Alicja A. Skowronski, a newly appointed post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Leibel’s lab, “He does so, in big part, through an intensive writing process. When you need feedback from him on any writing piece—an abstract, a manuscript, a thesis, a grant, you name it—he will get back to you with the speed of light. But more importantly than the speed, he provides insightful and comprehensive edits and comments, and this is primarily how I became a better researcher and writer. I can't tell you how often I read Rudy's comments and think ‘wow that's a great point that I didn't think about.’"
Dr. Rosenbaum called Dr. Leibel, “a polymath—capable of informative discourse on history, literature, poetry, and many other topics which he can then somehow relate to scientific study ranging from the most basic base pair to the highest cortical centers of the brain.” “He is, arguably, the most important obesity researcher in the field,” added Associate Research Scientist Charles LeDuc, who considers Dr. Leibel his primary mentor having worked with him even before the inception of the Berrie Center. “I know many scientifically important people and, to me, Rudy stands out for other reasons. He is unassuming, funny, and thoughtful.”
Many people have been the recipient of Dr. Leibel’s graciousness, Dr. Rosenbaum pointed out. “He always reminds us that his impressive work is merely a collaboration with those whose work preceded his and those that will follow,” he said. “Rudy remains a student, always acquiring new knowledge and translating it into new ideas.”
Dr. LeDuc said that Dr. Leibel “constantly attempts to improve research, science, writing, and, as strange as it sounds, the world. He is on a quixotic quest to improve that which most people have given up on.” As an example, Dr. LeDuc pointed to the statue honoring soldiers from WWI outside the Berrie Center. When it was vandalized (the bayonet from the top of the statue was stolen) Dr. Leibel, a major during the Vietnam War and a student of military history, contacted the city of New York to get it fixed.
“Anyone that has been on the receiving end of Rudy's emails, knows that he never forgets stuff like this, and he routinely emailed for updates,” recalled Dr. LeDuc. When the administrator he was contacting finally said they had a quote to permanently fix it but could not secure the funds for this year, “Rudy immediately offered to pay for it,” said Dr. LeDuc. “With the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI next year, he considered the fix urgent.” After his offer, the city found money for the repair.