For Robert H. Miller, Ph.D., senior associate dean for research and professor of anatomy and regenerative biology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, learning “how to do science”—and his role as educator and researcher—are the result of perseverance and well-developed pragmatism.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “[Becoming a scientist] is asking important questions that are practical and designing experiments that give you unambiguous answers. If you can do that, you can do science. But it’s very hard to do that. You need to learn that; it’s not instinctive.”
Miller’s words came as part of his formal installation Tuesday as the Vivian Gill Distinguished Research Professor, which featured introductory remarks from George Washington President Steven Knapp. The professorship was created in 1967 by a gift from Thomas H. Gill in memory of his wife, Vivian. Miller joins past distinguished Gill professors David Reiss, former professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, of medicine, and of psychology at SMHS; and Steven R. Patierno, adjunct professor of pharmacology and physiology.
As a neuroscientist, Miller has amassed a variety of awards, including the Jacob Javits Neuroscience Merit Award from the National Institutes of Health and the Outstanding Faculty Award from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU)’s School of Medicine. He is also a prolific published researcher.
“He’s authored 198 peer-reviewed publications,” said P. Hunter Peckham, Ph.D., the Donnell Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Orthopaedics at CWRU and a former colleague of Miller who was invited to speak Tuesday. “It’s just amazing.”
Past mentors, Miller said, gave him the freedom to explore and experiment, a gift that has shaped his career. “I’ve been lucky,” he said. He has been able to prioritize research goals, namely the biology of neural diseases, while working with others, including good friend and engineer Peckham.
“You put an engineer and a biologist together, it’s like oil and water,” Miller joked.
After serving as vice president for research and technology management at CWRU, Miller joined the SMHS faculty in 2014. Among his responsibilities, Miller focuses on research expansion and determining the infrastructure, funding and technology required to advance GW’s research mission.
“We are becoming collaborative as an institution,” Miller said. “We’re increasing that collaboration in a research spectrum. I think that is the future. It’s different. It’s a challenge. We need to be bold. We need to take risks. We need to make sure that we, the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, have a real footprint.”
His ambitions are precisely why SMHS chose him to lead the way into the future.
“We were thrilled to add to the faculty a scientist whose focus is on making a difference in the lives of patients,” said Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, RESD ’85, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS. “Bob’s knowledge, experience, strategic abilities, his global relationships, his wisdom, and his sense of humor make him an important member of my leadership team and a highly respected member of the university community.”
Miller responded, “I really appreciate the support of the leadership of the university and the School of Medicine. I’m honored to be here, and I’m honored to be part of this advancement in research.”