Fund President Dr. John Burris Announces Retirement

After 11 years, Dr. Burris to step down on Nov. 1, 2019

After 11 years at the helm of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Dr. John Burris announced his retirement at the May Board of Directors meeting.  He plans to step down on November 1, 2019.

Dr. Burris began his career at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund in July 2008 after serving eight years as the president of Beloit College in Wisconsin.  He was no stranger to the Fund, serving as the first chair of the Fund’s Student Science Enrichment Program from 1996-2002.

His first major challenge was weathering the financial crisis of 2008-2009.  While, the Fund’s major grant programs were on hiatus, he encouraged program staff to attend meetings and conferences to prepare for the recovering markets.  The markets did recover, and the strategies Dr. Burris and financial team put in place enabled the Fund to rebound quickly and soon the grant programs were back to full strength. 

Under Dr. Burris’s tenure the Fund helped spark endeavors in preterm birth research, an interdisciplinary program in population and laboratory research, an innovations in regulatory science awards program, career awards for outstanding STEM teachers in North Carolina, an innovative mathematics program based on the methods used in Singapore, and funding for equipment and supplies for K-12 classrooms.   He also participated in early efforts to create the North Carolina Science Festival and provided the festival with a $1 million endowment gift to initiate creation of a meaningful endowment.

Recently, he led a major $25 million initiative designed to provide training programs for MD’s considering a career in science.  The Physician-Scientist Institutional Program has now funded 10 programs in U.S. universities.  During his tenure the Fund has awarded over $340 million in grants to advance biomedical research and education.

Dr. Burris has championed efforts in diversity in science and in science communication to make science and careers in science accessible to all.  Under his leadership a postdoctoral enrichment program and a graduate development enrichment program were established to advance the careers of members of underrepresented minority groups.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my eleven years at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund as we have helped advance the careers of some of the best and brightest young scientists in the United States and Canada.  The flexibility of the funds we provide will continue to provide a catalyst for new ideas and approaches,” Dr. Burris said.  “As enjoyable has been getting to know the young people of North Carolina and their dedicated teachers and administrators. The funding we have provided to advance education pays dividends for us all. 

Finally, I thank all of the staff and volunteers, whether on the Board or on our advisory committees, who make it fun to come to work each day, knowing the collective commitment and spirit that drives our mission.”

“We are sad to see John leave, and we are deeply grateful for his exceptional leadership of the Fund.  We also wish him all the best in his retirement,” said Fund Board Chair Dr. Michael Welsh.  “BWF is an outstanding organization that has a very large impact.  The incredible success of the foundation is owed to the commitment, creativity, problem-solving, and hard work of its President, staff and many volunteers.  We are determined to continue the fine work of the foundation.”

A presidential search committee, comprised of Board of Directors and staff members, has been established.

John Burris received his undergraduate degree from Harvard College and his Ph.D. in marine biology from the Scripps institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego.  He was an assistant and associate professor at the Pennsylvania State University in the Department of Biology until 1984 when he joined the staff of the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences.  At the NRC/NAS he served in several capacities, including Executive Director of the Commission on Life Sciences.  In 1992 he became the Director of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  In 2000 he was named the 13th president of Beloit College.

Throughout his long career, he has helped guide the efforts and programs of many educational and research organizations through his service on boards and committees.  These have included the boards of the Morgridge Institute for Research, the Grass Foundation, the Radiation Effect Research Foundation in Hiroshima, Japan, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Stazione Zoologique in Naples, Italy and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.