The Science Behind the Graduate School

Photo of Dean Karpus sitting at his desk

The office shelves of the Dean of the Graduate School are filled with books about molecular immunology and cytokines—no surprise, perhaps, because Dean William Karpus is a professor of pathology and microbiology-immunology from Northwestern University. He also served as the associate dean of student affairs at Northwestern’s Graduate School, leading him to come to Madison a little over two years ago to advance graduate training and career outcomes for graduate students as the Dean of UW’s Graduate School.

How does the Wisconsin Idea animate your work? The concept of bringing discoveries to the people of the state, nation and world informs how I lead the Graduate School in a number of areas. First, the considerations of the Wisconsin Idea frame our strategy to prepare graduate students for a broad spectrum of career outcomes. Second, we celebrate and publicize graduate student accomplishments and discoveries that impact the state and country. Finally, understanding the needs of the people of Wisconsin plays a role in program development and review.

What are some examples of how the Graduate School amplifies the Wisconsin Idea? One of the major areas of emphasis for the Graduate School is professional and career development for graduate students so that they can attain the skill sets necessary to be competitive for a broad spectrum of career outcomes. There are many possible career destinations for students with graduate degrees, including in the state of Wisconsin. For instance, providing entrepreneurial opportunities and some business acumen would put our Materials Science PhD graduates in a highly competitive position for a career at the Oshkosh Corporation. There are numerous other examples of career destinations for graduate students in Wisconsin and we have to understand what those companies need in terms of workforce development and provide our students with those opportunities.

What do you love about the University of Wisconsin-Madison? The commitment of the faculty and staff to research, as well as teaching and preparation of the next generation of leaders across an impressive breadth of disciplines.

Who or what inspires you? Graduate students inspire me. When I have coffee chats across campus and meet with students, I hear about their research and discoveries. Of course, there are many challenges, but their unencumbered enthusiasm for what they study is uplifting.

You participated in the Wisconsin Idea Seminar in 2016. What has stuck with you from that experience? The opportunity to meet people across the state and hear their everyday challenges. It starts the thought process on how UW-Madison can be partners with the people of the state and work with them to solve problems and improve everyday life. Specifically, I learned about the student mentoring structure used at the United Community Center in Milwaukee. It was so impressive that I am thinking about incorporating some of the conceptual elements in how graduate students are advised and mentored.

What do you like to tell colleagues who are considering applying for the Wisconsin Idea Seminar? This is an opportunity to listen to people from many walks of life. It would be a missed opportunity to use the time to solely tell the people you meet what you are doing at the UW-Madison and not listen to their challenges, successes, hopes and dreams.

What are three books that have influenced you? The literature that influences my scientific thought process and every-day work is in the form of original research articles in my discipline and in graduate education. When I do find some time to read books, I usually choose novels as an escape from every-day life. However, I recently discovered John Gierach’s work. He is a fly fishing writer who tells stories based on his own experiences. He does weave his own philosophical thinking as he tells the story and I find it both enlightening and relaxing.

As a relative newcomer to Wisconsin, have you discovered a favorite destination in the state? My favorite destination is any stream where there are no other people fishing and a lot of hungry trout.

Dean Karpus earned his B.S. degree in Biology from Michigan Technological University and his Ph.D. in Immunology from Wayne State University. Karpus was also a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Northwestern University.


Hello, Wisconsin! Stories of the Wisconsin Idea is a profile series that highlights the remarkable ways Wisconsin Idea Seminar alumni, collaborators, and others are animated by the Wisconsin Idea on and off campus.