Beverly M. Emerson

Born: January 18, 1952 | Eugene, OR, US

Beverly M. Emerson was born in Eugene, Oregon, and attended the University of California, San Diego, where she discovered a love of science.  She worked in Donald Helinski’s and Peter Geiduschek’s labs; the latter became her mentor, and she continues to have a professional relationship with him. When she finished her PhD at Washington University in St. Louis, she decided to accept a postdoc in Gary Felsenfeld’s lab at the National Institutes of Health; there she began the transcription research that she has continued ever since. Beverly has her own lab now at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0422
No. of pages: 229
Minutes: 550

Interview Sessions

Neil D. Hathaway
16, 18, 21 December 1992 and 28 January 1993
Salk Institute for Biological Studies La Jolla, California

Abstract of Interview

Beverly M. Emerson was born in Eugene, Oregon, and spent much of her childhood there. She was the only child of her two parents, but her father had three children by a previous marriage. Her parents divorced when she was young, and her mother began travelling, settling in San Francisco for a month or two at a time and then returning to Eugene. Beverly missed a great deal of school, but she educated herself by reading. Although she herself had not finished high school, Beverly’s mother emphasized to Beverly the importance of college education, and insisted that the University of Oregon was not good enough for Beverly. Somehow able to support them both, Beverly’s mother sent Beverly to La Châtelainie Institute in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, for a year. Beverly’s early school experiences did not instill academic diligence, and Beverly’s grades were only average.

            Fortunately, her test scores were good, and she matriculated into the University of California, San Diego, where at last she discovered a love of learning, especially in science. During college Beverly spent a year studying at St. Andrews in Scotland, and when she came back her academic ambitions were well established. She worked in Donald Helinski’s and Peter Geiduschek’s labs; the latter became her mentor and template for a scientist, and she continues to have a professional relationship with him still. She admired him so much that when she graduated she spent a year working as a technician in Geiduschek’s lab.

            Deciding to attend graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, Beverly began working in Robert Roeder’s lab. Her project caused her some difficulties she could not solve until a guest speaker, Shirley Tilghman, pointed out something to her. When she finished her PhD, she decided to accept a postdoc in Gary Felsenfeld’s lab at the National Institutes of Health; there she began the transcription research that she has continued ever since. Although she began her current work in Felsenfeld’s lab, that work has branched off from his area; she is concentrating on ß-globin and chromatin. Beverly has her own lab now at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences. She foresees herself continuing this same work until the end of her career, quite possibly at the Salk.

In addition to explaining her work, Beverly discussed protein purification, gene cloning, gene transcription, transcription factors, TATA boxes, chromatin structure, the construction of an in vitro transcription system, the locus control region, the Salk Institute, her Frog Room, and the status of women in scientific research.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1975 University of California, San Diego BA Biology
1981 Washington University in St. Louis PhD Molecular Biology

Professional Experience

National Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes, and Digestive and Kidney Disease

1981 to 1986
Staff Fellow, Section on Physical Chemistry, Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

1986
Associate Professor, Regulatory Biology Laboratory

Honors

Year(s) Award
1972 to 1973

University of California Education Abroad Program award to study in
Great Britain

1981 to 1986

National Institutes of Health Staff fellowship

1988 to 1992

Pew Scholars Award in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Childhood spent moving many places with her mother, but always returning to Eugene, Oregon. Missed significant amounts of school. Educated herself through reading and other solitary pursuits. Education always stressed as important. Spent a year of high school at the La Châtelainie school inNeuchâtel, Switzerland.

College Years
10

Matriculated at the University of California, San Diego. Excited about educational possibilities, but not particularly science. Year abroad at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. Interests in science blossomed after that period. Undergraduate research with Professors Donald R. Helinski and E. Peter Geiduschek. University of Saint Andrews. Anti-American sentiment. Social life. Geiduschek's technician after graduation.

Graduate School
37

Enters Washington University in St. Louis, Robert G. Roeder's laboratory. Women in science. Geiduschek's mentoring. Shirley M. Tilghman's help with research. Difficulties in Roeder's lab due to her project. Learned scientific perseverance through him.

Postgraduate Years
94

Gary Felsenfeld's laboratory at the National Institutes of Science. b-globin system. Difficult project because the risk sounded interesting. . Major topics discussed include protein purification gene cloning, gene transcription, transcription factors, TATA boxes, chromatin structure, the construction of an in vitro transcription system, the locus control region, the Salk Institute, and the status of women in scientific research.

Principal Investigator Years
113

Accepts position at Salk Institute for Biological Studies. How her earlier research has led to her current work with chromatin. Other laboratories' transcription work. Laboratory management. Frog room. Funding and policy issues. Tenure. Publication record. Quality of different journals. How her research hopes to answer larger questions about mechanism of gene expression. Darwinian Evolution. British science versus American science. Scientific motivations. Nobel Prize prospects. Commitment to work.

Index
225

About the Interviewer

Neil D. Hathaway