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Lili Yamasaki grew up near Detroit, Michigan. She had an early interest in art and writing, which she believes leads to creativity in science. Like all her siblings, Yamasaki attended University of Michigan for undergrad, where she studied chemistry, but diversified her education with humanities classes. During summers she worked in various labs focused on chemistry. After graduating, she accepted a position doing enzymology research at Stanford University with Donna L. Wong and Roland D. Ciaranello. Wanting to obtain a doctoral degree, she attended University of Texas Health Science Center, where she worked with Robert E. Lanford on receptor specificity in nuclear transport. After a postdoc, Yamasaki took a position at Columbia University, looking at the regulation of growth and development by suppressors and activators.

Douglas Yee was born in Detroit to parents who had fled China just before World War II. He came to like chemistry while attending the University of Michigan, where he studied zoology and anthropology. During the summers he worked in Joan Bull's lab at the National Institutes of Health and became interested in cancer and genetics. He entered medical school at the University of Chicago; there he studied Epstein-Barr virus. His internship and residency followed at North Carolina Memorial Hospital. Then he accepted a staff fellow position at the National Cancer Institute, where he researched insulin-like growth factors (IGF) in Marc E. Lippman's lab. He went on to an instructorship at Georgetown University, then to an assistant professorship at University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. He is now an associate professor there.