Martin Frank
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Martin Frank

I was born in Chicago, Illinois and grew up with the natural curiosity of youth, exploring the world around me. That led me to science and the associated science projects and science fairs that one pursues while growing up. For me, that interest translated into an interest in pursuing a degree in science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The question was how could my parents afford to send me to college, the first in my family to attend.

Fortunately, one of my summer jobs was to work as a caddie at Bryn Mawr Country Club in Lincolnwood, IL. It was while caddying that I discovered that the Western Golf Association had a scholarship program for caddies in financial need. I attended college on an Evans Scholarship that provided tuition and housing in the Evans Scholars House on campus.

At the UI, I continued my interest in science, studying physiology because of a class taught by Dr. F. R. Steggerda. He taught a laboratory on cardiovascular physiology (the heart and blood vessels and how they work) using dogs. It was Steggerda’s enthusiasm for physiology that encouraged me to major in physiology. I received my BS degree in 1969 and decided stay at UI to continue a project started my senior year and to get a PhD degree. When my advisor did not get tenure, I switched projects and advisors within the department and received my Ph.D. degree in 1973.

In order to strengthen my research credentials, I took an initial postdoctoral position at the Michigan Cancer Foundation, Detroit, with Dr. Samuel Horowitz, followed by a second postdoctoral position at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI, with Drs. Ted Brody and Tai Akera. Then it was on to a faculty position where I could establish my own laboratory and launch a research program. I decided to accept a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology at the George Washington University Medical School.

My goal was to become the proverbial "absent-minded professor," ride my bike to campus and to introduce scores of eager students to the mysteries of physiology. Unfortunately, on an assistant professor’s salary, I could not afford to live close enough to campus to ride my bike to campus. As a result, I spent time in my car listening to NPR and I got interested in science policy.

As a result, I left GWU after 3 years and accepted a position at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where I could help scientists get grants from the government to do their research. I worked as the Executive Secretary for the Physiology Study Section in the Division of Research Grants. As Executive Secretary, I was responsible for managing three review meetings per year at which approximately 100 proposals were considered by members of the study section. While working at NIH, I discovered that there were a lot of scientists doing the same kind of research I had been doing and many of them were experiencing funding difficulties. I also realized that many of my colleagues were no longer interested in my research but they were interested in research funding. As a result, I recognized that I could do more for physiology as an administrator than I could ever do in the laboratory.

However, I was not satisfied with only being the Executive Secretary of a study section. I was able to convince my bosses to allow me to work one-day a week in the offices of some of the senior leadership at NIH. I was able to work on the development of the SBIR application kit with Dr. Lily Engstrom in the Office of the NIH Director. I was able to work with Dr. Sarah Gardner in the Pharmacology Program, NIGMS. I was able to work with Dr. George Brooks in the Office of the Director, Extramural Activities Program, NIAMDDK. As a result of the internship program that I established for myself at NIH, I was able to successfully compete to be part of the Department of Health and Human Services Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program in 1983. My first 3-month assignment was in the Office of Program Planning and Evaluation, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health, where I worked on orphan drug legislation.

While on assignment, I discovered that APS was looking for a new executive secretary-treasurer and I decided to apply. I interviewed during the summer of 1984 and started as the Society’s Executive Director in July 1985. In my position, I am responsible for managing all aspects of the Society’s affairs, working cooperatively and collegially with the Society’s leadership and members, and directing a staff of approximately 70 individuals. During my tenure, the Society has grown from an organization comprised of 6,000 members in 1985 to one of over 11,000 members. Our annual budget has grown to approximately $18 million. I work with staff and volunteer leadership to make sure that the 14 journals published by APS have the best articles and come out on time; that the APS meetings show the best physiological research and allow scientists to exchange ideas freely; that the members and the general public learn about careers in physiology, the best ways to teach physiology, and new research going on in physiology; and dealing with the government to make sure there is enough money for members to do the research that is needed to move physiology forward. I have been fortunate to have been able to hire an outstanding staff and to have an excellent working relationship with the Society’s leadership. Working together, we have been able to advance the discipline and strengthen the American Physiological Society.


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