Frances M. Brodsky

Born: March 3, 1955 | Worcester, MA, US

Frances M. Brodsky grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, where her seventh-grade teacher got her interested in biology. In 1972 she entered Radcliffe, where she majored in biochemical sciences. Through a biochemistry mentoring program, Brodsky worked for three summers in Paul D. Gottlieb's laboratory at MIT. While at Oxford University, she worked in Walter F. Bodmer's laboratory, where she researched monoclonal antibodies. In a career that spanned academia and industry, she worked for Stanford University, Becton Dickinson Immunocytometry Systems, and the University of California, San Francisco. Brodsky discusses the issues surrounding funding and how that affects laboratory management, the recent decision by the Board of Regents of the University of California to abolish affirmative action, and the ways scientific collaboration and controversies have affected her. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0421
No. of pages: 106
Minutes: 700

Interview Sessions

Steven J. Novak
21-23 August 1995
University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California

Abstract of Interview

Frances M. Brodsky grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. Her father worked at ETS (Educational Testing Service), a job he began shortly after the company was founded. Her mother, an artist, was a professor at Rutgers and director of the Rutgers Center for Innovative Printmaking. Frances had a privileged and happy childhood and adolescence, complete with good friends, supportive parents, and an excellent education in Princeton, New Jersey, public schools. Brodsky's seventh-grade teacher got her interested in biology. Somehow, with primitive microscopes, the students did microscopy. Brodsky's parents encouraged her interest in science, hoping that she would become a medical doctor. She describes her most exciting high school teachers as those who taught biology, math, French, and Russian. In 1972 Brodsky entered Radcliffe, her mother's alma mater, where she majored in biochemical sciences. Although she cultivated an interest in medicine in deference to her parents, she eventually faced the reality that "I fundamentally was interested in the principle, but not the practice of medicine." Through the biochemistry mentoring program of the Boston-based universities, Brodsky was able to work for three summers in Paul D. Gottlieb's laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Still planning on medical school, Brodsky applied to MD/PhD programs but instead earned a Marshall Fellowship to study at Oxford University. There she worked in Walter F. Bodmer's laboratory, where she began her research on monoclonal antibodies. After earning her PhD, Brodsky attended Harvard Medical School for one semester, but the practice of medicine no longer interested her. Instead she undertook postdoctoral research on clathrin and HLA with Jack L. Strominger and later moved to Stanford University for further postdoctoral research with Peter Parham, her collaborator from her time in Oxford and her partner. Becton Dickinson Immunocytometry Systems then hired Brodsky as a program manager; there she ran her own lab, performing basic research in monoclonal antibodies and cell surface biology. She learned a great deal of cell biology by attending the ASCB Annual Meeting to meet others in the field, ("infiltrating" cell biology, as she thinks of it). After four years in industry, Brodsky made the then-uncommon decision to go back to the academic world, taking a position as assistant professor at University of California, San Francisco, where she is now a full professor. Brodsky discusses the years she spent working at Becton-Dickinson as the ideal way by which to switch from immunology to cell biology while expanding the clathrin antibody research. Throughout the interview Brodsky discusses the changing issues surrounding funding and how that affects her laboratory management, the recent decision by the Board of Regents of the University of California to abolish the affirmative action policy, and the ways scientific collaboration and controversies have affected her. The end of the interview includes a note regarding Brodsky's pseudonymously authored first mystery novel.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1976 Harvard University BA
1979 University of Oxford DPhil

Professional Experience

Harvard University

1979 to 1980
Postdoctoral Fellow, Biological Laboratories

Stanford University School of Medicine

1980 to 1982
Postdoctoral Fellow

Becton Dickinson Immunocytometry Systems

1982 to 1986
Manager, Cell Biology Program

University of California, San Francisco

1987 to 1991
Assistant Professor
1991 to 1994
Associate Professor
1994 to 1996
Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1975

Phi Beta Kappa

1976 to 1979

1976-1979 Camille and Henry Dreyfus Fellowship for Summer Research, Marshall Scholarship for Graduate Study in the United Kingdom

1980 to 1982

Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship

1987

Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association Fund Research Starter Grant

1988 to 1992

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Childhood in Princeton, New Jersey. Family background. Academic interests of family. Educational trips to New York City and Europe. Early interest in French and Russian language. School. Friendships.

College Years
15

Choosing Radcliffe College. Relationship to Harvard University. Biochemistry tutorial program. Research in Paul D. Gottlieb's laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Graduate Years
21

Marshall Scholarship to study at Oxford University with Walter F. Bodmer. Interest in MD/PhD programs. Adjustment to England. Beginning of work on monoclonal antibodies. Collaborations with Peter Parham. Postdoctoral research with Jack L. Strominger at Harvard. One year of Harvard Medical School. Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship to work with Peter Parham at Stanford University.

Biotechnology Industry
38

Researcher at Becton Dickinson Immunocytometry Systems. Moving research into cell biology. Discrimination against female scientists. Selling clathrin antibodies.

Department of Pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco
41

Early controversy over electron microcopy work. Current clathrin research. Future crystallography collaborations. Laboratory management style.

State of the Biomedical Sciences
56

The Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences Award. Funding. Women in the UCSF biomedical discipline. Funding issues and the National Institutes of Health. Teaching experiences. Scientific Ethics.

Index
102

About the Interviewer

Steven J. Novak