I recently arrived in Buffalo to take up a new job as chief executive officer of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, known in house as HWI. The most common question people have asked me as a newcomer is: "Why are you coming to Buffalo?"
Plausibly, the question came up during the period when I was being interviewed and then recruited. But it is also the most common refrain I hear from Buffalonians of all stripes, from taxi drivers and my new barber to my new colleagues at HWI and the members of its board.
There is often a tone of mild surprise behind the query, as though Buffalo did not have the drawing power to pull in new people. There may even be a hint of a sense of inferiority.
I did get a lot of e-mails from friends, congratulating me on the move but teasing me about having to learn to ski to work. One particularly clever barb was a gift of a periscope, to "help you see your way when the snow is above your head." The Weather Channel has not been kind to Buffalo, so, if weather is all there is to life, Buffalo has some justification for its concerns. But it is not.
The answer I have been giving to the "why" question is correct but incomplete: I came to a wonderful job that would let me return to the aspect of my career that I loved the most -- thinking about science every day.
In my last post as a dean, I got to think about biophysics (my area of research) only rarely. And I missed it. But the change is working, and I feel quite rejuvenated.
However, the rest of the answer to the question is much more general and important. People should come to Buffalo because you guys are nice.
Much more common than the above question was the friendly phrase "welcome to Buffalo." It is not an empty phrase. People go far out of their way to be helpful.
During one of my interview visits, I met with the president and provost of the University at Buffalo, and with the dean of the Medical School, all in a span of two days. Such a set of meetings would have been wildly unlikely at the institution I came from. These people represented a mark of collegiality and respect for HWI, and were effective recruiting tools.
Since that time I have been introduced to a host of community leaders. Many of these meetings occurred at the Spot Coffee Delaware Cafe, which seems to be the Times Square of Buffalo. Without exception, these individuals have shown real interest both in my introduction into the community and my well being, and in the work and needs of my new home institution.
My decision to purchase a condo at the waterfront has drawn a lot of favorable comment from many happy to see someone move into the downtown area. HWI's resident Nobel laureate, Dr. Herb Hauptman, drops in to chat and to offer encouragement.
Another amazing snippet: coming home from the Wegmans on Amherst Street, I turned south on Grant Street hoping to get on the Scajaquada westbound. It seemed likely that I needed to be in the right-hand lane, but the entrance is on the left. Drivers let me cross three lanes of traffic to make my turn.
So, fellow Buffalonians, I hope that I can learn to be as friendly and warm as you are, and that I can work hard and give something back. But Buffalo crab cakes will never match those in Maryland.