Chavela M. Carr

Born: November 20, 1965 | Indianapolis, IN, US

Chavela M. Carr grew up near Indianapolis, Indiana in a large family. She attended Vanderbilt University, studying German, earning Phi Beta Kappa, and remaining involved in choir and musical theatre. Carr worked with Douglas R. Cavener on Drosophila  genetics, a research laboratory experience that differed in distinct ways from her general science laboratory courses. She attended MIT for graduate work in biology and soon joined the laboratory of Peter S. Kim (Pew Scholar Class of 1990), working on protein-protein interactions and coiled coils. In 1993 Carr published a Cell paper on the spring-loaded mechanism of conformational change in flu-virus--a paper which merited news releases in the New York Times and Washington Post . After completing her PhD, Carr moved to New Haven, Connecticut, to join Peter J. Novick's laboratory at Yale University. Upon receiving a position at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Carr began her research group and soon received the Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Science Award. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0568
No. of pages: 95
Minutes: 297

Interview Sessions

Hilary Domush and David J. Caruso
16 and 17 June 2008
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Piscataway, New Jersey

Abstract of Interview

Chavela M. Carr grew up near Indianapolis, Indiana in a large family. From early childhood she was interested in school, finding the math-based sciences interesting. Due to a high school human genetics course, Carr decided to pursue molecular biology as an undergraduate. She attended Vanderbilt University, studying German, earning Phi Beta Kappa, and remaining involved in choir and musical theatre. More importantly for her future career, however, Carr also worked with Douglas R. Cavener on Drosophila genetics, a research laboratory experience that differed in distinct ways from her general science laboratory courses. After graduating from Vanderbilt University with honors and awards, Carr attended MIT for graduate work in biology.  Soon she joined the laboratory of Peter S. Kim (Pew Scholar Class of 1990) and began researching protein-protein interactions and coiled coils. There she began a long-term collaboration and friendship with Frederick M. Hughson. In 1993 Carr published a Cell paper on the spring-loaded mechanism of conformational change in flu-virus—a paper which merited news releases in the New York Times and Washington Post. After completing her PhD, Carr moved to New Haven, Connecticut to join Peter J. Novick’s laboratory at Yale University, where she wanted to begin working on a yeast model system; her work and publications on the Sec1 proteins binding to SNARES proved controversial and have only recently been resolved. While at Yale Carr met her husband Hays S. Rye, introducing the ‘two-body’ problem to both of their career tracks. Upon receiving a position at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Carr began her research group and soon received the Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Science Award, which she recounted at length. Carr discussed her current research and the difficulties associated with publishing and funding during the oral history and she ended the interview talking about biomedical science more broadly, including the public perception of science and science education. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1988 Vanderbilt University BA Molecular Biology
1995 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Biology

Professional Experience

Yale University

1995 to 2000
Postdoctorate, Cell Biology under Peter J. Novick

The Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

2000 to 2009
Associate Professor, Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine

Honors

Year(s) Award
1988

Phi Beta Kappa

1988

Magna cum Laude, with Honors, Vanderbilt University

1988

Genetics Society of America Undergraduate Research Award

1994

Sigma Xi

1995 to 1998

Damon Runyon/Walter Winchell Post-Doctoral Fellowship

2002 to 2006

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana. Large family including stepsiblings. Community of children. Early interests in school and reading. Human genetics in high school. Appeal of math-based science.

Undergraduate Education
6

Vanderbilt University. Programs in molecular biology. Warmer climate. Research advisor Douglas R. Cavener. Drosophila genetics research. Studying German. Phi Beta Kappa. Influence of Grammy Carr. Interests in choir and musical theatre. Differences between laboratory courses and conducting laboratory research.

Graduate Education
18

MIT. Research with Peter S. Kim. Group atmosphere. Protein-protein interactions and coiled coils. Collaboration with Frederick M. Hughson. Breakthrough findings published in Cell about envelope viruses including influenza and HIV. New York Times and Washington Post press releases. Paper writing process.

Post-doctoral Research
28

Peter J. Novick's laboratory at Yale University. Yeast model system. Damon Runyon Walter Winchell Postdoctoral Fellowship. Transition from Boston, Massachusetts to New Haven, Connecticut. Controversial Journal of Cell Biology publication about Sec1 binding to SNAREs. Meeting husband Hays S. Rye. Decision to go on the job market the same time as husband.

Principal Investigator
38

Choosing University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Sense of community. Writing and receiving the first round of NIH grants.

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences
43

Writing private grants. Community of great young scientists. Pew meetings and discussions of science. Access to Advisory Board members. Taking her young son to the meeting. Missing meetings or meeting sessions because of pregnancy, childbirth, or nursing.

Current Research and Laboratory Environment
50

Working with her first graduate student and technician. Benefits of being near the pharmaceutical industry. Instrumentation. Continued collaborations with Frederick M. Hughson. Gordon Research Conferences. Phylogenetic study of Sec1 Munc18 proteins. Teaching. Joint faculty meetings. Staying at the research.

Funding and publishing
70

Difficulty of funding and publishing simultaneously. Availability of departmental bridge grants. Smaller articles as complete stories. Reviewers. NIH grant writing system. Electronic journals versus paper journals.

Biomedical Science
79

Science Education. Technology-oriented world of children. Dangers of early specialization. Public perception of science. Funding and keeping students in science. Interests in industry. Tenure. Children. Balancing work and family. Definition of Biomedical Science.

Index
91

About the Interviewer

Hilary Domush

Hilary Domush was a Program Associate in the Center for Oral History at CHF from 2007–2015. Previously, she earned a BS in chemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 2003.  She then completed an MS in chemistry and an MA in history of science both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her graduate work in the history of science focused on early nineteenth-century chemistry in the city of Edinburgh, while her work in the chemistry was in a total synthesis laboratory.  At CHF, she worked on projects such as the Pew Biomedical Scholars, Women in Chemistry, Atmospheric Science, and Catalysis.

David J. Caruso

David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and editor for the Oral History Review. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds an annual training institute that focuses on conducting interviews with scientists and engineers, he consults on various oral history projects, like at the San Diego Technology Archives, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.  His current research interests are the discipline formation of biomedical science in 20th-century America and the organizational structures that have contributed to such formation.