Joseph Terwilliger

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Joseph Terwilliger
Joseph Douglas Terwilliger

NationalityUnited States
EducationPeabody Conservatory of Music,
Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences,
University of Oxford
Known forStatistical genetics
AwardsHitchings-Elion Fellowship from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund
Scientific career
InstitutionsColumbia University
New York State Psychiatric Institute
ThesisNew mathematical methods in human gene mapping (1993)
Doctoral advisorJurg Ott

Joseph Douglas Terwilliger is an American geneticist and professor of neurobiology at the Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. In addition to his scientific research, he is known for accompanying retired basketball player Dennis Rodman on his visits to North Korea,[1] where he has said that he serves as Rodman's translator.[2] He began his involvement in Rodman's trips to the country after winning a basketball game with him at an auction.[3]

Education and career[edit]

Terwilliger in Military Armistice Commission (MAC) Building T2, located on the DMZ Military Demarcation Line (MDL). Behind him are two Korean People's Army soldiers guarding the door leading to South Korea. August 26, 2009.

A tuba player, Terwilliger received his bachelor's degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Music.[1] After receiving his bachelor's, Terwilliger moved to New York City to look for a job in music, but later found himself drawn to a graduate school program in genetics and development [4] at Columbia University Medical Center. He later recalled, "I could not believe they were actually going to pay me to go to grad school. In music you have to teach classes just to pay your tuition, and then you have to get a job to pay the rent. While in science they actually were going to pay me, which seemed like an unbelievable scam at the time."[5] He decided to enroll in a graduate program at Columbia in genetics because he felt that, since he had been a music major, the alternative would probably be working at McDonald's; he later discovered he had a natural interest in statistical genetics.[5] He went on to receive his Ph.D. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1993.[6] He then received a Hitchings-Elion Fellowship from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, which he spent working with Mark Lathrop at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford.[5] In July 2013, he began teaching a human evolutionary genetics class at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in North Korea.[1] He still teaches at PUST as of October 2017.[7] He has an Erdős–Bacon number of 6, having appeared in Dennis Rodman's Big Bang in Pyongyang.[8] He also sang additional vocals on the 2020 album Killection by Finnish heavy metal band Lordi.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Stone, Richard (2014-01-18). "Road-Tripping With Rodman". Science Insider. Retrieved 2018-08-21.
  2. ^ Chappell, Bill (2017-06-13). "Dennis Rodman Says He's On A 'Mission' In New Visit To North Korea". NPR. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  3. ^ "The Canadian behind Dennis Rodman's travels in North Korea". Macleans. 2013-12-01. Retrieved 2018-08-21.
  4. ^ Didorenko, Svetlana (2013-12-15). "Column: Sciences - She Blinded Me With Artwork". Flaunt. Retrieved 2019-01-30.
  5. ^ a b c "Awardee Profile - Joseph D. Terwilliger". Burroughs Wellcome Fund. 2008. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  6. ^ "Joseph Terwilliger, PhD". Department of Genetics and Development. Columbia University. 2017-10-05. Retrieved 2018-08-21.
  7. ^ Shim, Elizabeth (2017-10-30). "Civic exchange with North Korea is key, Rodman companion says". UPI. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  8. ^ Leydon, Joe (2015-01-26). "Slamdance Film Review: 'Dennis Rodman's Big Bang in Pyongyang'". Variety. Retrieved 2019-05-26.
  9. ^ (2020). "Killection liner notes." In Killection [CD booklet]. AFM.

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