Hi, I'm Jane Wilkinson. I am a scientist, founder, leader and I’m obsessed with collaborative research. With over 20 years of experience in ground breaking genomics, cancer research and people-first leadership, I look forward to coaching first-time founders and new leaders as they rise to meet the challenges of today.
Research and collaboration
Scientific leadership, the Human Genome Project
My scientific career began at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Genome Center, UK where I worked closely with Sir John Sulston on the C.elegans nematode genome project - the first multicellular organism to be sequenced. The nematode was important in biology as it was extensively used as a model organism for both developmental and molecular biology. The nematode genome was a transatlantic partnership between the Sanger Genome Center, UK and Washington University, St. Louis, USA. This was my first taste of managing an important scientific collaboration - understanding that not a single lab alone could succeed in this historic initiative.
The success of the nematode genome led to the belief that the human genome could also be read - but only with collaboration. Twenty universities and research centers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, and China came together to make what has since been called the moon landing of biology.
I was an early leader on the Human Genome Project, working on the Chromosome 1 initiative. I led a team of scientists who focused on stitching together parts of the chromosome - most of this work has since been considered ‘revolutionary.’ ‘Getting it done’ has always been my mantra.
Launching a startup with Monsanto
In 1998 I made the leap across the Atlantic to form a new start-up in Kendall Square, with Monsanto Company, where I led a new directive in plant genomics. I love getting into things at the beginning and taking a risk to try something new. The switch from an English based non-profit to an American Fortune 25 company was invigorating and I was hooked on the American start-up culture.
On the founding team at The Broad Institute
In 2002 Monsanto wanted to take the initiative back to St.Louis but I was in love with Boston. I rejoined the human genome project under the leadership of Eric Lander at the Whitehead Institute and worked closely with Eric to figure out a whole genome approach that would allow us to sequence more model organisms such as the Mouse. Eric Lander created the Broad Institute in 2004 and it was another opportunity to be a new institute at the beginning. Watching, learning and taking part in the creation of one of the biggest and brightest research institutes in the world.
In my 18 years at the Broad I led many genomic initiatives across cancer, mendelian, infectious and common diseases. I probably hired at least 100 people in my time at the Broad, where I found myself taking a people-first approach to management and leadership. I created teams where I empowered people to focus on their strengths while coaching them to learn new skills so they could flourish in a highly innovative institute. I also found myself growing into new directions with a passion for communications and outreach with a strong interest in strategic partnership development.
Leading the Koch Institute at MIT
In 2021 I joined the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research as the Executive Director. This role combined my love of strategic partnership development with communications and outreach. It was a very externally facing role with many opportunities to create external relationships with clinical, commercial, government and academic partners. I particularly loved the convergent approach to cancer research - where half of the faculty were biologists and the other half were engineers housed in a very entrepreneurial environment.
In September 2023 I took on a new role that was very much in the entrepreneurial spirit of the Koch Institute. Working closely with MIT Alum Steve Wallman, a friend of the Koch Institute, I became the President and Co-founder of CANCollaborate, a new non-profit that will forge and support collaborative initiatives and new incentive mechanisms with the intent of accelerating treatments for rare cancers, especially appendiceal cancers.
Becoming your coach
I purposefully chose to launch two new career chapters simultaneously: founding CanCollaborate and becoming a coach with Founder to Leader. At this stage in my career, coaching others feels like the perfect way to share my experiences in science management and leadership - while also mentoring and this important new breed of technical entrepreneurs.