Julia P. Cooper

Born: November 2, 1961

Julia P. Cooper was born in Morristown, New Jersey. She began Emory University planning to be a geologist, but switched her major to biology. She began graduate school in pharmacology at the University of Colorado. Paul became her PhD advisor; in his lab she studied the biophysical properties of branched DNA. She accepted a postdoc at the National Institutes of Health and worked on chromatin structure in Robert Simpson’s lab. She later accepted another postdoc in Thomas Cech’s lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder, working on telomeres in fission yeast. After three years she left to work with Paul Nurse at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England, spending a year there before accepting a position at the University of Colorado at Denver. From there she moved to the London Research Institute, where she continues her research on telomeres and genomic stability.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0478
No. of pages: 108
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

Karen A. Frenkel
24-26 May 2006
London Research Institute London, England

Abstract of Interview

Julia P. Cooper was born in Morristown, New Jersey, one of three children. Her father was at first an engineer, then a psychologist interested in the psychology of vision. At first Julia lived in Trumbull, Connecticut, but when she was in elementary school, her family moved to Washington, D.C., where her father had a job with the Army Research Institute, studying how people see in order to make them see more efficiently. Her mother worked with early computers at Bell Laboratories until her children were born; after they were in junior high school, she and a friend started their own business indexing, mostly for the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Julia’s brother was an engineer but left the field for work with computers; her sister owns a gourmet food store.

Julia felt that her early schooling was uninspiring; it was only in college that she discovered biology. During her high school summers she worked as a waitress and one summer travelled to Yugoslavia with her father. She began Emory University planning to be a geologist, but a biology class introduced her to plant physiology, and she switched her major to biology. She worked on cockroach muscles in a lab in college. She began graduate school in pharmacology at the University of Colorado. In Paul Hagerman’s class she discovered that DNA is flexible, an exciting and beautiful idea to her. Hagerman became her Ph.D. advisor; in his lab she studied the biophysical properties of branched DNA. During her years at Colorado she met and married her husband and had her first child as she was finishing her degree.

After travelling in Switzerland, Julia, her husband, and their first child went to Washington, D.C., where she accepted a postdoc at the National Institutes of Health. She worked on chromatin structure in Robert Simpson’s lab. She had a second child while in Washington, and then she accepted another postdoc in Thomas Cech’s lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder; there she worked on telomeres in fission yeast. After three years she wanted to work with Paul Nurse at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. She spent a year there and then accepted a position at the University of Colorado at Denver. From there she moved to the London Research Institute, where she continues her research on telomeres and genomic stability. Cooper also discusses balancing family life with her career, which includes the usual searching for funding; publishing; working toward tenure; variable administrative duties; and working in the lab.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1983 Emory University BS Biology
1989 University of Colorado, Health Sciences Center PhD

Professional Experience

University of Colorado, Health Sciences Center

1989 to 1991
Postdoctoral Fellow
1997 to 2002
Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics

National Institutes of Health

1992 to 1993
Postdoctoral Associate (Robert T. Simpson)

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

1993 to 1996
Postdoctoral Associate (Thomas R. Cech), University of Colorado, Boulder

Imperial Cancer Research Fund

1996 to 1997
Postdoctoral Associate (Paul Nurse)

National Cancer Institute

2002 to 2017
Group Leader, Telomere Biology Laboratory Cancer Research

Honors

Year(s) Award
1996

European Molecular Biology Organization long-term fellowship

1998

National Institutes of Health R01

1999

Human Frontiers in Science Program Research Grant

1999 to 2003

Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences Award

2005

Electred Chair of Gordon Research Conference on Chromosome Dynamics

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Early schooling in Trumbull, Connecticut. Parental expectations. School in Fairfax, Virginia. Impact of religion on Cooper.

College Years
16

Matriculates at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Becomes interested in biology. Her first laboratory experience in college. Summer jobs. Cooper’s impression of Atlanta, Georgia, and living in the South.

Graduate School Years
25

Begins graduate school in pharmacology at University of Colorado, Boulder. Inspiration from a course taught by Paul J. Hagerman. Her doctoral research in Hagerman’s laboratory studying the biophysical properties of branched DNA. Hagerman’s mentoring style. Journal articles in Hagerman’s lab.

Postgraduate Years
31

Her postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Robert T. Simpson’s chromatin structure laboratory. Gender issues in science. Simpson’s mentoring style. Cooper’s postdoctoral fellowship with Thomas R. Cech at University of Colorado, Boulder. Attends a course on fission yeast at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Her research in the Cech laboratory on telomeres in fission yeast. Competition in science. Works in Paul Nurse’s laboratory studying Taz1 protein and telomeres in fission yeast.

Faculty Years
47

Accepts a position at University of Colorado, Denver. Setting up and managing her lab. Funding. Prioritizing her research projects. Cooper's current research in molecular genetics studying telomeres. Teaching responsibilities. 

London Years
71

Cooper’s move to the London Research Institute. More on Cooper’s current research on telomeres and genomic stability. Setting up her lab in London. Foreign students as science graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. More on gender issues in science. Balancing career and family. Patents. Writing journal articles. Administrative duties. Tenure process at the London Research Institute. Her professional and personal goals.

Index
105

About the Interviewer

Karen A. Frenkel

Karen A. Frenkel is a writer, documentary producer, and author specializing in science and technology and their impacts on society. She wrote Robots: Machines in Man’s Image (Harmony 1985) with Isaac Asimov. Her articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers including The New York TimesCyberTimesBusiness Week, Communications Magazine, DiscoverForbesNew Media, Personal Computing, Scientific American, Scientific American MIND, The Village Voice, and Technology Review. Ms. Frenkel’s award-winning documentary films, Net Learning and Minerva’s Machine: Women and Computing aired on Public Television. She has been an interviewer for Columbia University’s Oral History Research Center’s 9/11 Narrative and Memory project, The National Press Foundation’s Oral History of Women in Journalism, and the International Psychoanalytic Institute for Training and Research’s Oral History. Professional memberships include: The Authors Guild, National Association of Science Writers, Writer’s Guild of America East, and New York Women in Film and Television: Past Member of the Board and Director of Programming. Her website is www.Karenafrenkel.com.