Heartbreaking works of staggering genius

Jackie Wirz, Ph.D., assistant professor and biomedical sciences information specialist, OHSU Library

By Jackie Wirz, Ph.D.

Hello there – my name is Jackie, and I am the Biomedical Science Specialist and Assistant Professor at the OHSU Library.  Sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it?  I have fancy business cards and everything.  But I have a secret to tell – I was actually a graduate student here at OHSU.  As such, I know all of the places to get food at 2 a.m., the warmest areas to catch a nap between time points, places with showers when you’ve been at work for 24 or more hours straight, and how to get to all of the major seminar rooms on campus indoors.  Despite my many (many!) years in student mode, I am sad to say that one place I seldom set foot in was the OHSU Library.  It’s not that I didn’t use their resources – every day I accessed the many electronic journals and databases that the Library provides – I just didn’t physically enter the Library very often.

Hmmm, I’m not starting this column about the Library very well…  I could spend time on this, my first blog post, to advertise our extensive collection – our thousands of journals, hundreds of databases, amazing staff, etc., but I’ll get to that some other time.  Today I’d like to discuss what I consider to be the most unique and valuable resources in the Library: the student theses and dissertations.  When I did venture to the Library as a student, I would oftentimes swing by this area of the collection (also known as the “Wall of Wisdom,” the “Shelves of Scholarship” and the “Blue Light Special” since a majority of the titles are hardbound in shades of blue).  This area houses all of the student theses and dissertations from all of our graduate programs from 1994 to the present (older volumes are in storage).  It’s an impressive array of topics, ranging from dietetics to structural biology, public health to biomedical informatics.

As a student, I would approach the wall with mixed feelings.  Sometimes I would look at the collected works and despair for my project – would I ever be able to compile my strings of failed experiments into an organized, cohesive work?  Much less one that was longer than 20 pages?  At other times I would be inspired by the impressive work that was produced by my peers, especially some amazing theses from my department (Martha Sommer and Ezhilkani Subbian, represent).  Now that my own meager contribution lies on the “Shelves of Scholarship,” I feel that I can look at these collected works with a little more perspective.  If you look beyond the citations, published chapters and research plans, you can begin to read between the lines.  You will find that each of these theses represents more than the intellectual growth of the next generation of medical professionals; more than a chapter in a professional life; more than the sum of its parts – hidden in these pages are stories of personality, perseverance, redemption, loss, humor…  In every volume you will find testament to the hard work and dedication that underpins any graduate career.  Moreover, you will find all of the reasons that make our time here at OHSU not just a place of learning, but a place of growth.

Our theses and dissertations don’t get as much use as our institutional subscriptions to Science or Dynamed, but the contents within those blue bound pages are more intensely personal to our community than you may think.  This area in the Library is one that I now pass on a daily basis, and it serves as a reminder to me that our output of research is so much more than a citation.  I may not have appreciated this enough as a student, but now that I work at the Library, I feel strongly that these works of staggering genius should be shared.  They are truly unique items in our collection, and ones that are well worth seeing.  I hope you drop by and peruse our “Wall of Wisdom” – I think you’ll be inspired by our amazing student population.


Jackie Wirz is an Assistant Professor and the Biomedical Sciences Information Specialist at the Oregon Health & Science University Library. She earned her Ph.D. from Oregon Health & Science University in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and has a B.S. from Oregon State University in Biochemistry & Biophysics. Her research career has spanned 15 years and has covered diverse topics such as transcriptional regulation, macromolecular structure determination, collagen biophysics and DNA repair. Her professional interests include information, data, and knowledge management, as well as the publishing paradigms of scientists. Additionally, Jackie is a strong proponent of science outreach and volunteers with a variety of programs designed to promote scientific literacy.  Jackie believes in evolution, salted caramel buttercream and Jane Eyre.