Maureen J. Charron

Born: August 28, 1959 | Brooklyn, NY, US

Maureen J. Charron was the first in her family to go to college (she attended Queens College in New York City), first wanting to be a doctor, but soon finding she liked research better. She joined the lab of Corinne Michels, where she worked on maltose fermentation genes of yeast for beer; eventually she developed this into her diabetes research. Next, she took a postdoc at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where she worked with Harvey Lodish, studying glucose transporters. She is now a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, an institution she chose based on its founding commitment not to discriminate against women, its diabetes lab, and location. She discusses difficulties women have in science, tenure, grant writing, competition and collaboration, and more. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0439
No. of pages: 96
Minutes: 400

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
7-9 September 1999
Albert Einstein College of Medicine Bronx, New York

Abstract of Interview

Maureen J. Charron has spent most of her life in New York City, New York. She was born on Long Island but grew up in Queens. The elder of two sisters born to parents of Italian and French Canadian descent, she attended parochial schools. She found that her all-girls high school, Mary Louis Academy, provided an excellent education as well as the security of a disciplined approach to education for women. She had always liked science and took as many classes as she could. The first in her family to go to college, she had to persuade her parents that further education was necessary for her; this she did at first by saying she wanted to be a doctor. For college she selected Queens College, then considered the "jewel" of the City University of New York system. When she decided she liked research and did not want to be a doctor, she accepted a position in the lab of Corinne Michels, at Queens College again, where, ironically, she worked on maltose fermentation genes of yeast for beer. She was intrigued to find that the ends of chromosomes appeared to be "hot spots" for recombinant DNA; eventually she developed this into her research into diabetes. Her PhD work at Queens went very well, and Charron had a number of offers from Ivy League colleges for postdoc work. She ended up taking a postdoc at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where she worked in Harvey Lodish's lab, studying glucose transporters. Lodish required incomers to bring their own grants, so Charron acquired a new skill, obtaining a Jane Coffin Childs award. She loved the atmosphere at the Whitehead, the extravagant facilities, and Lodish's enthusiasm for any and all science; and she stuck to her own timeline of three years for a postdoc before beginning her job search. Charron accepted an offer from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. One of Einstein's main attractions for Charron was its founding principle that the school would not discriminate against women or on other grounds except scholarship. It was also important that the school had a diabetes lab already established, funded by the National Institutes of Health, and a transgenic mouse facility. In addition, Einstein offered a dynamic atmosphere, creatively-thinking scholars, and a location close to her family and friends. Charron has won a number of awards, including the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences award, and is now an associate professor at Einstein. Charron finishes her interview with discussions of ethics in science and her experiences with unethical students; the difficulties women have in science, especially as they progress to faculty; tenure; grant writing; competition and collaboration; lab management and budgeting; and her professional and personal goals. She loves science, though she says she has Lodish's degree of enthusiasm for a more limited number of topics. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1981 Queens College, City University of New York BA
1983 Queens College, City University of New York MA
1985 City University of New York MPhil
1987 City University of New York PhD

Professional Experience

Queens College, City University of New York

1981 to 1984
Graduate Fellow, Department of Biology
1986 to 1987
Adjunct Lecturer, Department of Biology

Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

1987 to 1990
Postdoctoral Fellow

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

1990 to 1995
Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry
1995 to 2000
Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1987 to 1989

Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research Award

1989 to 1990

Postdoctoral fellowship, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health

1992 to 1995

Career Development Award, American Diabetes Association

1993 to 1997

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1998 to 2002

Irma T. Hirschl Career Scientist Award

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Growing up in Queens, New York. Roman Catholic schools. Music. Sports. Mary Louis Academy for high school. Early interest in science, its logic and discipline. Parents' conservative expectations for her and her sister.

College Years
19

Rejects St. John's University, usual college for graduates of Mary Louis. Chooses instead Queens College, in City University of New York system. Lives at home. Still likes science. Changes her mind about becoming a doctor, decides to explore research. Does well, but not well enough for best graduate programs.

Graduate School Years
39

Stays at Queens College to test desire to do research. Discovers genetic engineering in class with Corinne Michels. Finishes Master of Arts degree; Master of Science not given at Queens. Michels asks Charron to join her lab for PhD. Maltose fermentation genes of yeast.

Postgraduate Years
43

Accepts postdoc at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Sciences. Works in Harvey Lodish's lab. Studies glucose transporters. Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research award. Mother's diabetes steers her toward study ofgenetic components of disease. Loves Lodish's enthusiasm for science.

Faculty Years
49

Accepts assistant professorship at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Non-discrimination policy. Good place for junior faculty. Diabetes center already established, funded by National Institutes of Health. Transgenic mouse facility. Dynamic atmosphere. Interesting, congenial colleagues. Back in New York City.

General Thoughts
60

Tenure. Women in science. Married life versus single. Administrative duties. Teaching. Competition and collaboration. Ethics in science. Lab and budget management. Goals. Family. Music. Love of science.

Index
94

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen