The Pew Charitable Trusts

Greg E. Lemke grew up in Delphos, a small town in Ohio. He was the oldest of three children; their father was a railroad lineman and their mother a housewife. Lemke was always curious, always liked science. Though his parents were not college graduates, his paternal aunts were, and they encouraged Lemke with books and magazines.

Lemke entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he majored in biology and minored in music. He was a teaching assistant in Annamaria Torriani-Gorini’s microbiology class; he liked short experiments with fast results. He worked on glycoproteins in the labs of Phillips Robbins and Ellen Henderson. Lemke chose California Institute of Technology for graduate school because it was strong in molecular biology and neurobiology. In Jeremy Brockes’s lab he worked on Schwann cells, which are easy to grow and manipulate. He found his life’s interest in Schwann cells, which are homologues of the cells in the central nervous system; these cells form myelin around central nervous system axons; he was funded by the Kroc Foundation and a National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grant. For his postdoctoral work, Lemke he took his project to a postdoc in Richard Axel’s lab and began to clone. There he was funded by the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies offered him a job at just the right time; he was eager to return to California, and he wanted the independence of his own lab. He took his project with him; half of his lab continues the myelin work, attempting to understand signal transduction in the development of cells and studying differentiation in Schwann cells. The lab is also working on protein-tyrosine kinase. He has an adjunct position with the University of California, San Diego, but few administrative duties. He is writing a few chapters of a textbook on molecular neurobiology as well. All of this allows him less time in the lab than he would like.

Lemke talks about the importance of the Pew award and the contacts he has as a result of the award. He thinks the present system of science works pretty well, and that there is a great deal of interesting science going on. He discusses patents and ethical considerations, as well as the competition he faces from other labs. He hopes one day to understand how cell fate is specified during development; that is, how complex organisms develop (with a particular interest in the nervous system). How exactly are genes turned on? Although he works on basic science his findings may someday yield clinical implications. There is Schwann cell involvement in multiple sclerosis and neurofibromatosis. He believes that knowledge is a general benefit for mankind. He is now thinking about spending less time in his lab so that he might have a family.

Michael K. Skinner grew up in Pendleton, Oregon, the oldest of five boys. His father was an insurance salesman and his mother a housewife. Although he did well in school he was really interested in sports, and wrestled in high school. He wrote a paper on plant biochemistry and decided to be a scientist, knowing even then that he would need a PhD.

Skinner won a wrestling scholarship to Warner Pacific College, but he quit wrestling to have time for studying. His chemistry teacher, William Davis, persuaded Skinner to transfer to Reed College, where he did well. He also shifted his interest from radiation chemistry to biochemistry. During this time, in addition to writing fifteen papers, he married his high-school sweetheart and became a father.

Wanting to be in the lab of a young, enthusiastic professor, Skinner went to Michael Griswold’s lab at Washington State University, where he learned biochemistry techniques and picked up molecular biology. He began his life’s work in reproductive biology, working in proteins. Finishing his PhD in three years, he continued his focused approach in Irving Fritz’s lab at C.H. Best Institute at University of Toronto, learning a great deal of physiology. Skinner worked on Sertoli cells, and he found a mesenchymal conductor in testis. During his postdoc he had seven to ten publications. Skinner was recruited to Vanderbilt University’s large, excellent reproductive unit by Marie-Claire Orgebin-Crist. There he is able to continue his research in both testis and ovary.

Skinner discusses funding, one of his pet peeves, the daily demands of running a lab, and the competition with other labs. He believes that the biggest question in science, particularly in his field, is overpopulation. He says that other big questions include gene therapy, immunity, and funding protocols. He expects still to be at the bench in ten years, possibly with industry funding. His wife is a housewife and did not attend college. He keeps his work.

Timothy L. Manser grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, one of two children. His father was a lawyer and his mother mostly a housewife. He liked school; though he says the schools were not very good, he did have a good biology teacher in high school. His family vacationed in San Diego, California, where he developed an interest in oceanography.

Manser majored in biology at University of California, San Diego, chosen for its good programs as well as its proximity to the beach and surfing. He worked on Dictyostelium in William Loomis’ lab. For graduate school he chose University of Utah. He went through a number of rotations, finally settling in Raymond Gesteland’s lab. Influenced by Martin Rechsteiner, Manser began work in small nuclear RNAs focusing on the genes that encoded these RNAs in humans. When he had had enough of DNA cloning and sequencing of genes he decided to switch fields to immunology. Relying on Gesteland’s recommendation, he took a postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with Malcolm Gefter who had been trained as a Biochemist. Manser’s first job was at Princeton University, where he has continued his work, begun in Malcolm Gefter’s lab at MIT, on B cells.

Manser laments the current state of funding for science: too little, too devoted to applied science, too competitive, too political. He says the need for short-term productivity (i.e. publications) promotes inaccuracy, oversimplification, and even falsification. He found that the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award often has to be used for lab maintenance rather than for innovation or daring science, unless the recipient already has large funding. He thinks occasionally about changing fields to neurobiology; he is also considering going into administration as a way to encourage young scientists. He discusses balancing home life with life in the lab and his wife’s career sacrifices.

Michael C. Carroll was born in Birmingham, Alabama, one of four children. His father worked as an engineer after serving in the United States Air Force, and his mother was a housewife and secretary. The family moved to Texas for Carroll’s father’s job when Carroll was about ten. Carroll obtained a business degree from Texas Tech University and moved to Dallas, Texas, to work in banking.

Becoming bored with banking, Carroll decided to try science. He entered Southern Methodist University as an undergraduate, continuing there for a master’s degree and becoming interested in immunology. He obtained his PhD from University of Texas Health Science Center, where his advisor was Donald Capra; and there he began his interest in Complement C4. He moved to University of Oxford to work with Rodney Porter as a post-doctoral fellow where he cloned C4. He then accepted an appointment in Boston Children’s Hospital and is now a professor in Harvard Medical School.

Carroll talks about funding and the ways in which funding drives areas of research, using as an example his own concentration on work in the less fashionable biology of complement, rather than pursuing MHC. He compares British and American science, specifically Harvard’s and Oxford’s. He explains the importance to him of things other than science, primarily family; and he describes the intersection of his science and religion.

Jeffrey Noebels was born in New Jersey, one of three children; the family then lived in southern California until they moved to Geneva, Switzerland, when Jeffrey was twelve. His father was a chemist at Beckman Instruments, Inc., and his mother a housewife. Noebels is now married, and he and his wife have two daughters.

Noebels at first planned to major in French literature at Reed College, but Mary Meikle’s class in physiological psychology captured his interest in brain function. He spent a year at University College London, which was then the epicenter of brain study. He decided to get both a PhD and an MD. He began with graduate school at Stanford University, working on epilepsy with Timothy Pedley and David Prince, who were both clinicians and researchers. The American Epilepsy Society’s William G. Lennox Fellowship sent him to Harvard University for postdoctoral work, and then he began medical school at Yale University, fully committed to the study of the brain. While doing his neurology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, he won a Klingenstein Fellowship to work on epilepsy. Having completed his degrees, Noebels was recruited to Baylor, where he was offered a generous startup package and founded the Developmental Neruogenetics Laboratory.

Noebels discusses the importance of sharing information in science. He acknowledges a tension between the need to publish often and finalizing bench work. He agrees that new technology has proved invaluable to neuroscience. He enjoys teaching. He believes we will never fully understand how the brain works.

Michael McKeown grew up in a small town near San Francisco, California. His father held several positions in a sheet metal company whose main client was the U.S. Navy. His mother was a housewife. He remembers always being curious about how and why things worked, and he liked to do experiments. McKeown attended Stanford University, where he began in math but switched to biology. He liked the small classes and the opportunity for close interaction with the faculty. He worked in a lab during summers, studying bacteria and publishing one paper on thymidine.

McKeown decided to use his Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Fellowship at University of California, San Diego (UCSD), as their excellent faculty were working on interesting problems, and they were flexible about classwork. He began working in Dictyostelium in Richard Firtel’s lab, but switched to Drosophila. For his postdoc, McKeown stayed at UCSD, where there was a network of Whitney Fellows; there he worked in Bruce Baker’s lab.

As his funding began to run out McKeown accepted a very good offer at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He was able to take his project with him from Baker’s lab and to obtain more funding. He finds that funding is tighter and more competitive, so the Pew award has provided peace of mind as well as a wide-ranging network of scientists. He still likes bench work and still gets a thrill from completing a successful experiment, but he thinks occasionally of perhaps moving out of Drosophila; he feels that there is still much to learn about the regulation of differentiation. Although the Salk is not directly tied to biotechs, McKeown thinks that San Diego’s large number of biotech firms provides a good community of scientists and, more prosaically, jobs for postdocs.

Tucker Collins grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, one of three children. His father was a chemist at B.F. Goodrich, and his mother was a housewife, later she became a bank vice president. Collins spent summers with his grandparents on Long Island, New York. He was interested in science and medicine and attended the Program in Biochemistry (PIB) while in high school. He won the Westinghouse Science Talent Search and was accepted at Amherst College. At Amherst he worked with Edward Leadbetter and Walter Godchaux, two instructors from PIB. He also spent two summers at Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he attended Gerald Weissmann’s physiology course. Collins went into University of Rochester’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) program, obtaining both his MD and his PhD.

Collins began work on vascular endothelial cells while in Jordan Pober’s pathology lab section at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, while finishing his residency in pathology. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded his research into platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF). He says PDGF is intrinsically interesting, but its implications for nerve regeneration make it more so. Collins set up his own lab with one of his numerous grants and began teaching at Harvard University. His lab continues investigations into cytokine adhesion and PDGF, hoping to discover how and why organisms form or malform.

Collins attributes his current ventures to his previous educational and lived experiences. He loves the excitement of practicing science. He discusses the balancing of career and home life. Collins would like one day to be chairman of a pathology department.

Martin Snider grew up mostly on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, later moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and then to Newton, Massachusetts. His father was an academic physician, and Snider and his two siblings all ended up in academics too. A National Science Foundation summer program at Brown University convinced him to matriculate there.

At Brown, Snider worked with Joseph Steim, a biophysical chemist interested in the functionality of membranes. Snider feels that Brown, with its emphasis on undergraduates, gave him an excellent education. Encouraged by Joan Lusk, Snider entered Eugene Kennedy’s lab at Harvard University. Working with membrane proteins, as well as Kennedy, was difficult but he became Snider’s most important influence. Because his wife was at Harvard Medical School, Snider chose to do postdoctoral work at MIT. There he began his research into glycoprotein synthesis in the lab of Phillips Robbins. Snider was glad to leave the high-stress competition to accept a staff associate position at Carnegie Institution for Science, which he says was the nicest place he has ever worked. Funding and lack of distractions allowed Snider to concentrate on new research into vesicular traffic, and he was very productive.

When it was time for Snider and his wife, who is a neuropharmacologist, to establish their own labs, they found job-hunting to be most productive in medical schools in small cities. Ultimately they settled on Case Western Reserve University for both of them. Snider has continued his vesicular traffic work, but he has also returned to glycoprotein synthesis, where he says he has new tools to address old problems. He talks about his colleagues with similar interests; the size and composition of his lab; oral tradition in labs; and his own distinctive lab management. He has the additional responsibilities of grant-writing, reviewing papers, and teaching, leaving him perhaps half time in his lab.

Yolanda Sanchez was born in El Paso, Texas, but grew up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. She was one of five children whose father was an architect, now a teacher, and a housewife. Sanchez spent a year in New Zealand, improving her English and beginning to establish her independence. Her interest in science began in high school, where she did well in math and chemistry, loved biology, and did some research on Achyla recurva. Her parents valued education, but their daughters (who were told they could not marry until they had finished a degree) were allowed to go to college only locally, so Sanchez chose University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and was awarded a Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) grant. She worked on tumor suppressor genes and became interested in cell cycle and DNA repair. She chose Ann Killary’s lab at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), moving with Killary’s lab to the University of Texas at Houston, where she worked on microcell-mediated chromosome transfer. She married another scientist during this time and stayed in the lab for another year while waiting for her husband to finish his degree. For a postdoc Sanchez went to Stephen Elledge’s lab at Baylor University to work on the cell cycle in yeast. She published three papers there, including a Science paper on Rad53 kinase, and found Chk1 in yeast and humans.

Sanchez and her husband, Craig Tomlinson, accepted positions at the University of Cincinnati. She received a good startup package and found congenial colleagues as well as the possibility of collaborators. She was able to bring with her what she had worked on in Elledge’s lab, but she still found the transition to being PI difficult in some ways, especially because of the intrusion of politics into her lab management and into publishing. In her lab she emphasized teamwork and toughness.

Next Sanchez moved to an associate professorship at Dartmouth College, where her husband became head of the genomics core. She spends less time in the lab but hopes to be able to spend more time there in the future. She believes that basic science is crucial for medicine and that National Institutes of Health allocates funding inappropriately against basic science.

Sanchez discusses her Pew Scholars application topic (DNA damage and repair) and scholarship, the money it afforded her, potential and realized collaborations, and the Pew meetings. Her lab receives annual income from a patent; she talks about that patent and patents in general; she believes that patents help protect innovation. Sanchez compares her experience of religion in science in both Mexico and the United States. She describes her experiences with education of laymen, including the politics often involved in that education. She discusses balancing home life with work life and, although her husband is very supportive, she advocates for government-mandated and government-provided child care. Sanchez concludes her interview with a call for ethics classes and a greater emphasis on ethics in the practice of science.

 

Marilyn Resh grew up in what she calls a typical Long Island town. When she was in high school she discovered science, particularly chemistry, but continued her extensive violin playing throughout college and graduate school. She entered Princeton University because it provided an outstanding education and was undergraduate-oriented. Under the aegis of Meredithe Applebury she did her senior thesis on the effects of light on rhodopsin. This thesis and an intensive lab course convinced her that biochemistry was the right career for her.

Resh earned her PhD at Harvard University, working on sodium-potassium ATPase in Guido Guidotti’s lab. She had seven publications in graduate school. Resh stayed at Harvard for postdoctoral work. Because the insulin receptor was becoming understood as a tyrosine kinase and possibly an oncogene, Resh switched fields into cancer research under Raymond Erikson, who was the first to identify Src as an oncogene and a tyrosine kinase. Resh’s project was studying membrane-binding properties. When she had finished her three-year grant and learned many new techniques from Erikson she took an assistant professorship at Princeton. She set up her lab with a technician and three students and stayed there for about four years. Resh is now at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which has a much larger biomedical research community compared to Princeton. It provides a new lab in a new building, extensive institutional support, and access to many more scientists in all fields. She and her new husband love the cultural life of New York City, and Resh’s family lives nearby.

Resh considers herself one of the top researchers in Src oncogene. She says her niche is the membrane association of oncogenes; her specific problem is to find how Src gets to the membrane and why it is important for causing cancer. As technology has evolved, so has the subset of questions it is now possible to consider; she gives the example of her lab’s discovery of how protein myristoylation regulates Src association with the membrane.  

Resh finds science fulfilling, exciting, flexible, demanding; but she also acknowledges publication and grant pressure; the need for a tough ego; science’s time-consuming nature. She likes the people and the cooperation in science. She is said to practice “clean” science. She talks about funding in general and her own in particular. She discusses women in science, but refuses to accept gender as an excuse for failure. She tries to lead her students by example, hoping to show them that it is possible to combine work and family. She hopes that twenty years from now she will still be in the lab; perhaps will be the editor of a top journal or will be a top speaker or possibly chairman of a department.

P. Todd Stukenberg grew up mostly in Rochester, New York, one of three children. His father worked for Xerox Corporation; his family had a background in and love of art. He always liked science and was good at it. Wanting a liberal arts college in s small city, he attended Colgate University, where he designed his own molecular biology curriculum. During this time he had a seminal lab experience working in Ken Burns’ lab at Cornell Medical School in New York City. He did a joint PhD at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell University Medical College, where he discovered sliding clamps while working in Michael O’Donnell’s lab. For postdoctoral work he entered Marc Kirschner’s lab, which had just moved from San Francisco to Harvard University. His research there was into Cdc2, purifying MPF. He patented in vitro expression cloning. He began his still-continuing work on Aurora B and kinetochore complex Ndc80 and collaborated on Pin1 with Kun Ping Lu.

Stukenberg accepted a job offer from the University of Virginia (UVA). Believing yeast training to be important, he established a friendship and collaboration with Daniel Burke. He found that Ndc80 complex worked well in Xenopus and developed the use of egg extracts. He has found the quality of life at UVA less stressful and more rewarding than at Harvard. Of course, publishing and funding remain constant concerns.

During the interview Stukenberg discusses the Pew Scholars application and meetings, as well as the Pew’s monetary and non-monetary rewards. He describes clamp innovation; he explains why he promotes Aurora B as a new class of oncogenes. He explains how kinetochore is involved in binding microtubules and sending a spindle checkpoint signal, for which he has coined the phrase “ionic spaghetti.” He talks about Hill models and the importance of MCAK and the other proteins, viz. Isis, Kf2, TD-60, and Polo. He has established a collaboration with Tarun Kapoor. He attributes some of his insights to his wife’s work in patterning, and he mentions his young son.

Pages