Remembering Ruth Kirschstein


Ruth Kirschstein, M.D.We were all very sad to learn of the death of Ruth Kirschstein, M.D., last evening. She will be deeply missed here at NIGMS, NIH, and beyond.

Dr. Kirschstein was an iconic figure at NIH and in the scientific community. She was the long-time director of NIGMS, serving from 1974 to 1993, and was the first female director of an NIH institute. She also served as acting director of NIH, deputy director of NIH, and in other key positions.

Dr. Kirschstein truly represented the best of NIH—public service, wisdom, and deep knowledge and analysis of important problems. She was so profoundly modest that Congress had to surprise her when they acknowledged her contributions and commitment to research training with the naming of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards.

I am sure much more will be said and written about her in the future, and we will share this with you in the comments section. I encourage you to post your own thoughts about her as well.

7 Replies to “Remembering Ruth Kirschstein”

  1. Ruth was a wonderful scientist, a warm human being, and a great friend of chemistry. She recognized the central role that chemistry plays in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and tried hard to get adequate support for relevant chemistry in NIH and in the grant programs.

    We will miss her.

  2. It is such sad news to hear. I have had the fortune to meet her at a few occasions when I was a postdoc at NIH. She was always gracious, kind, warm, and motherly. She will be missed.

  3. I am sad to learn of her passing. Although I do not know her personally, she has affected my life as a Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA predoc fellow. I feel honored to hold an award named after her.

  4. Hearing of Ruth Kirschstein’s death was for me a personal jolt. Though l associated Ruth with the support of the previous generation of scientists, many of whom have also passed, this is still a real loss, since she kept the values and spirit of that greatest generation of American scientists active and passed that on to all of us. Ruth not only embodied her commitment to basic science and what it could do for our country but she helped create an institution, NIGMS, which now in her absence has kept that tradition alive. The Nobel prizes, the great discoveries, were only a public recognition of what we all know is the awesome productivity of curiosity driven research. That this kind of science is in the richest tradition of our culture and also the most productive source of medical advances seems not to have dissuaded others for calling for a more top down and applied focus. Ruth had heard that all before. She would gather her chips and stand for her principles and in the end she would fight until she won. Though she was senior and in theory retired, I cannot but feel less secure today than a short time ago. When I hear a voice calling me to devote my time to service, it is her distinctive tone that echoes in my ears. I will miss that insistent tone. I am sorry the young scientists of today will not have the opportunity to know Ruth, someone so sure she was right that she never flinched to work night and day to provide the opportunities for scientists young and old to make their best contribution.

  5. I am very sorry and sad to hear that Dr. Ruth L. Kirschstein has passed away. I know that Dr. Kirschstein will continue to live on in the hearts of many, and many scientists, including myself, a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award recipient. I will always be indebted to Dr. Kirschstein for her remarkable contributions to our community. I hope to learn more about her inspirational accomplishments and philosophy as we persevere in our research goals towards improving the health of others through research of health and disease in her honor, as well as others who have significantly impacted our lives.    

  6. Ruth Kirschstein was a remarkable leader, a change-agent who promoted both research and research training through strengthening programs, initiating novel programs and creating new outreach and training opportunities. The imprint of those efforts at NIGMS and beyond has been enormous. It is all the more remarkable that she had an equally enormous impact on individuals, mentoring and encouraging a myriad of people who served on NIGMS committees or whom she met a conferences. I was the beneficiary as well as an admiring observer of the way she connected with diverse trainees and faculty members associated with NIGMS programs, people at all stages of training or careers. Her mentoring and encouragement impacted my own career greatly.

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