The Pew Charitable Trusts

Judith M. White grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When she was in junior high school, her family moved to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She is one of two children of an insurance agent and a school librarian. She did not have an interest in science until she got to high school, when she had good chemistry and physics teachers, but hated dissecting frogs in biology.

White chose Franklin and Marshall College in nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and entered its first coeducational class; she majored in chemistry, the only woman in her class to do so. Carl Pike, her biology teacher and lab supervisor, inspired her interest in biology. She was able to spend two summers doing research, the first at University of Rochester, where she discovered membranes, and the second at Bryn Mawr College, where she worked in plant physiology. She also became active in backstage work in the theater.

For graduate school White chose the biophysics program at Harvard University, again the only woman in her class. She completed her thesis work in Don Wiley’s lab, intrigued by the ability of viruses to insert their DNAs into cells. During this time she also worked in Michael Waterfield’s lab at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, England. White enjoyed Ari Helenius’s work on membranes and chose his lab at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, for her postdoctoral work. Helenius’s lab eventually moved to Yale University, and White decided it was time to start her own lab.

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), recruited White to help build a cell biology program. She still focuses on membranes but with a broader scope that includes a virological/pharmacological perspective. While working on the Semliki Forest virus, White discovered the importance of pH in surface fusion or lack thereof. She feels that UCSF now has the best cell biology program on the West Coast.

White contrasts Wiley’s and Helenius’s management styles, and describes her own as “not hard-driving enough.” What they all have in common is their love of and enthusiasm for science. White loves bench work and tries to do as much as she can. She also likes mentoring and teaching students. White has numerous publications, but she believes that the number of one’s publications is a poor measure of ability as a scientist. White says she had positive and strong female role models, and believes a sense of humor is important. She advises students to talk with other scientists and not just to read books. She believes individual success is about doing one’s best, and to not feel victimized by circumstances. In her too-little spare time she still attends the theater.

Nathaniel Heintz grew up on a dairy farm near Clinton, New York. He is the tenth of twelve children whose father was an oral surgeon and whose mother was a housewife and career counselor. One of his older brothers is also a scientist, and the two collaborate a bit. Always interested in science, Heintz says that his high school was less intellectually stimulating than his home environment. Heintz chose Williams College in order to play hockey; he says he worked hard only in his science classes, especially genetics and biochemistry. He did his honors thesis in electron microscopy with George Vankin.

After breaking a contract to play professional hockey in Europe, Heintz entered State University of New York at Albany to study molecular biology, an exciting new field. His experience with his advisor, David Shub, taught him to be self-reliant and gave him a good foundation for a postdoc. Rapidly developing equipment and techniques made him want to move from prokaryote systems to eukaryote.

At Washington University in St. Louis, Heintz combined genetics with gene expression in Robert Roeder’s lab, which he found stimulating, exciting, and competitive. He found Roeder intelligent, driven, and accomplished. Wanting to express mammalian histone, Heintz concentrated on cell-cycle regulation to learn about basic growth control in cells. He remains interested not so much in the mechanistic what happens, but rather in the biological why and how.

When he accepted a job at Rockefeller University Heintz acquired a much larger lab space and more people and so could more easily return to neurobiology, which he has always fascinated him. He says that cell populations are not homogeneous; they have internal genetic programs, but they are also influenced by their environment and by interactions with other cells. By working in the cerebellum, Heintz hopes to find how a particular cell in complex tissue knows what genes to express and when. The cerebellum has only five different cell types, each type organized and developed in a particular way. Since the cerebellum, which is dormant until birth, controls movement, experiments are not lethal. His resumption of neurobiology also gives his lab members infinite amounts of material to take to their own labs. Heintz values the personal aspects of science and likes to be colleagues with his former lab members.

Heintz describes the changes in Rockefeller’s organization and his own lab composition and management. He says a good scientist needs to have a strong work ethic, critical design capability, imagination in experimentation, and intellectual aggressiveness. He believes experiments are crucial and that few scientists are exceptional experimentalists. He talks about his own funding and funding in general; he expresses dissatisfaction with the National Institutes of Health and peer review systems; and he decries “flash” science, which often leads to premature conclusions and publications that later have to be retracted.

Philip M. Rosoff grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents were both college-educated and put a high value on education; as a result they sent Rosoff to Friends Select School. He entered New York University (NYU), majoring in biology. He became interested in neuroscience, but he stuck with premed courses in order to please his parents.

For medical school Rosoff chose Case Western Reserve University, which started its medical students in clinical work in their first year. He found he liked and was good at medicine, but he still wanted to do science. Attracted to pediatrics and impressed by three pediatricians who did medicine and science, he went to Boston Children’s Hospital for his residency. In his last year he began working in hematology/oncology with Harvey Cohen, staying at Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Center. When Cohen left for the University of Rochester Rosoff went into Vicki Sato’s immunology lab; shortly thereafter he went to Lewis Cantley’s lab, working in the biochemistry of cell signaling.

Cantley moved to Tufts University, and Rosoff accepted an assistant professorship there as well. There he got his own lab in a growing department, one looking for MDs who would also do science. Rosoff decided to change his clinical status to science. He met and married Dona Chikaraishi, a molecular biologist at Tufts. Rosoff has been learning the challenges of running a lab: funding, competition for students, and the difference between graduate students and medical students. He now has a brilliant student, Chandra Mohan, who is working on a new signaling receptor they found— by chance—on the surface of human T cells.

Rosoff talks about his calcium channel project and possible collaboration with another Pew Scholar, Michael Snyder. He thinks science is becoming more difficult and competitive. Funding is tight and sometimes arbitrarily awarded. He discusses the changes in technology. He believes that science is a contribution to knowledge and that knowledge advances society. In ten years Rosoff hopes to be doing the same work he is doing now but with more secure funding and a larger lab.

Pamela Bjorkman grew up in Parkrose, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. Her father was an accountant for a tractor company, and her mother, who had taught English in Bermuda, was a housewife. Bjorkman became interested in science when she took chemistry and physics in high school. She attended Willamette University for a year but then transferred to University of Oregon, as she wanted to be able to pay her own way. While in college she worked in the labs of Larry Church at Reed College and O. Hayes Griffith at the University of Oregon. 

Interested in why organisms behave as they do, Bjorkman chose Harvard University’s PhD program as the best place to learn biochemistry and molecular biology. She found Don Wiley’s lab exciting and fast-paced and became interested in using X-ray crystallography to understand how major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins are involved in the immune response to pathogens. Then she had a long period of trying to solve the crystal structure of a MHC protein; she feels this immersion gave her a thorough knowledge of crystallography. Still finishing the crystal structure, she accepted a postdoc at Stanford University in Mark Davis’s lab, where she worked producing a T cell receptor that recognizes the MHC protein she studied in graduate school.

Crystallography again in fashion, Bjorkman was recruited to California Institute of Technology. She finds being an assistant professor keeps her away from the bench more than she would like; she must write grants, teach, advise students, and sit on committees. In addition, she and her husband, whom she married while at Stanford and who is a neurobiologist also at Caltech, share the care of their toddler son and other domestic duties. 

Bjorkman discusses the difficulties of working while pregnant; of finding two jobs in the same city if not in the same institution and then setting up two new labs while caring for a very young child; of working out duty-sharing arrangements; of the effects on careers of having children. She says she hopes that in ten years she will know how molecules that are involved in immune response function and how T cells interact with their target cells. She feels this will help her answer many immunological questions. 

Charles Rice grew up in California. His father was an insurance adjuster and his mother a housewife. He intended to be veterinarian, so he entered University of California, Davis where he majored in zoology while there he worked for Dennis Barrett and spent summers at Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory. He loved Spanish language and literature; after graduation he traveled in Latin America before he returned to be a teaching assistant for the Physiology Course at Woods Hole.

For graduate school Rice decided on the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he worked in James Strauss’ lab on RNA viruses. He continued in that lab as a postdoc, collaborating with Henry Huang on Sindbis virus and beginning to work on the yellow fever virus vaccine strain.

After a mini sabbatical with Lynn Dalgarno in Australia, Rice accepted a position at Washington University in St. Louis. There he continued to collaborate with Henry Huang and Sondra Schlesinger. He had fewer administrative duties than at other institutions; and a broader swath of science and scientists. He feels he is still learning how to manage his lab, but hopes to develop his students into independent and creative thinkers. His lab continues his work in RNA viruses and has recently begun work on hepatitis C. Rice’s overall objective is to learn how to inhibit virus replication without harming the hosts.

Rice discusses the influence of Caltech. He explains his lab composition, his management style, and how his collaborations enriched his science. He loves bench work but is not so fond of administrative duties. He does not like fashionable science or having to spend so much time seeking grants and believes that the current discouraging state of funding agencies is turning away good people. He stresses importance of basic science. He may work more intensively on hepatitis C and thinks Sindbis has other uses as model system.

Susan McConnell grew up in Crown Point, Indiana, the oldest of four children. Her father was a metallurgical engineer and her mother a nurse. Both were college graduates, as are McConnell’s three siblings. McConnell has always loved animals and interested in animal behavior; she initially wanted to become a horse trainer.

McConnell was a biology major at Harvard University, specializing in animal behavior. She found summer work at the Wisconsin Primate Center, but still questioned the mechanisms of behavior and began thinking in terms of cells. After graduation she worked for Howard Gardner at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Reading and thinking about biological constraints on human potential, rather an amorphous concept, helped her define what she wanted to do. She was more interested than ever in cells, especially the neuron, and found that year off critical for formulating her work. McConnell entered Simon LeVay’s lab at Harvard, working in the visual system in mammals and moving with the lab to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. LeVay’s style allowed her opportunities to try a number of unusual experiments, some of which turned out very well, resulting in a number of publications from her graduate work. For postdoctoral work, McConnell went to Carla Shatz’s lab at Stanford University, funded by the National Eye Institute. She had a wonderful time there and finally discovered the excitement science is supposed to generate. She explains how her work differs from Shatz’s though they have similar training and interests.

McConnell accepted a Professorship at Stanford, which she loves. Her graduate school work forms the basis for her current work. She is now funded by the Pew Scholars award, a Searle Scholarship, and money from the National Eye Institute, in addition to an appointment as a Clare Booth Luce Professor. Her lab is small and composed entirely of women, though not by design. McConnell feels a need to critique her work; she wants to develop her field and to do “elegant” science, and she spends very long hours in the lab to do so.

Marilyn Pike grew up in Westchester, New York. Her father was a chemical engineer who was interested in desalination, even patenting a freeze-drying process for Maxwell House Coffee. Her mother was a housewife. Pike credits her high-school biology teacher for inspiring her career in science. She majored in zoology at Duke University but became interested in biochemistry in Irwin Fridovich’s class. After graduation Pike worked for three years as a technician in Ralph Snyderman’s lab, publishing several papers. She decided to go to graduate school, staying at Duke and continuing to work in Snyderman’s lab. There she began work with phospholipids, work that continues in her lab today.

When lab work became boring, Pike decided to go to medical school, again at Duke. She finished her MD in three years and moved to University of Michigan to complete her internship and residency. While there she married Richard Mulligan. He was at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, so Pike found a job at Massachusetts General Hospital, with an assistant professorship at Harvard University; her lab’s new work there concerns IL 8. Funding has become so difficult, however, that Pike feels she will probably look at other options, such as chief of medicine or consulting for a drug company.

Pike talks about her own perfectionism, her love of working with her hands, her need to control. She likes unambiguous results for experiments and likes doing graphics. She likes the congeniality and fun of small labs but thinks that they are a thing of the past, partly because of funding and partly because of the complexity of today’s science. She talks about politics in hospital administration and the increasing need for a businessman as chief executive officer, detailing some of what she thinks are Harvard’s mistakes in administration of funding. She concludes with some discussion of the problems facing women in academia.