Signing Off: Dean Montrose Reflects on a Career in Academia
Written by Chris Pasion, graduate assistant to The Graduate School.
Marshall “Chip” Montrose, vice provost and dean of The Graduate School, is retiring. Dr. Montrose has worked at the University of Cincinnati for nearly two decades, first as chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, then as interim chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Cell Biophysics before becoming the dean of The Graduate School in 2014. Prior to coming to the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Montrose worked at Johns Hopkins University, where he began his career as an academic in molecular medicine, and Indiana University.
Dr. Montrose did not consider a career in academia until he was far along into his own education, as a postdoctoral student in Switzerland. “I was a TA in a lab,” he says, “and those students were fantastic because my German was useless, so everyone just flipped and we did the class in English. How accommodating is that?!” The students in his class showed him that if teaching could work in an environment that was far different from what he was used to, perhaps he could translate that to his career back in the states. “If this can work in that kind of circumstance, and everyone was happy with what they were learning from me and I was happy working with students, then I was like ‘Yeah I could do that, that’s alright.’ So it just sort of worked out.”
After concluding his postdoc, Dr. Montrose began work at Johns Hopkins University as a professor and researcher. “It’s a difficult place to work, but it can be very rewarding,” he says. “You can step into anything in a heartbeat, because there’s somebody there doing it at the state-of-the-art level.” This collaborative spirit is something that Dr. Montrose admired in Johns Hopkins, and he found it to be present in much of the work being done at the University of Cincinnati as well. “One of the things I like about Cincinnati is that it’s easy to step into a collaboration,” Dr. Montrose says. Collaboration is important to Dr. Montrose, as he has been instrumental in developing interdisciplinary initiatives that see graduate students from different fields working together towards mutual goals. Dr. Montrose’s efforts eventually landed him in rooms with administration from areas far beyond his role in the College of Medicine. “Suddenly I’m in these rooms with people from the education college, from music, from engineering, and I’m like ‘Oh, I just learned four new languages.’” People in these rooms, as well as on the search committees, eventually encouraged him to apply for the position of dean and vice provost of The Graduate School.
If there is one through-line between Dr. Montrose’s research and his work in campus administration, it’s that every part of the system is in some way connected. “Physiology is all about connections. Your brain can affect your gut, your liver can affect your heart, all these linkages exist.” These linkages also exist between colleges at a university, with each one operating differently while still adding to the overall climate and culture of the campus. Learning how to manage these linkages between colleges was Dr. Montrose’s first big challenge when taking on the role of dean. “The big transition for me was learning the language of the university versus the language of medicine and learning the variable approach you need when dealing with a university-wide audience instead of colleagues where you pretty much speak the same language.” DAAP has a different flavor than CEAS, just as CCM is much different than CECH. These colleges must coexist in a way that builds them all up together, which is what has been Dr. Montrose’s focus as dean. “The major thing that you want is for everyone to understand that they are at a university and they’ve got to pull together," he says. "It’s ok to want to approach it differently, it’s ok to have a different idea of what’s important to you, but the university has got to have a unified force.”
As the academic year winds down, Dr. Montrose is working his final days of employment before beginning a long-awaited retirement. The exit of his career is much like the beginning, with him not completely knowing what is on the other side of that letter. “One of the things with academics is that love what they do and they tend to stay on. I’ve got too many things outside of the academic life that I want to pay attention to and feel like I almost missed,” he says. Dr. Montrose looks forward to catching up on an ever-growing stack of sci-fi fantasy novels, as well as getting back to his love of traveling the world. “There’s a long list of things that I can’t wait to go see,” he says, listing off places like the heel of Italy, Morocco, the Northern Lights, and Glacier Bay National Park. “I’ve always had a bit of a wanderlust,” he says. Dr. Montrose and a “high school buddy” had once devoted months to traveling the states and beyond, in search of adventure and new experiences, which is something he hopes to get back to in retirement. “We’ll be traveling quite a bit,” he says, “but Clifton is always home. We like coming back.”