Rebecca W. Heald

Born: December 1963 | Bellefonte, PA, US

Rebecca W. Heald grew up in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Her father was a chemistry professor at Thiel College in Greenville, and her mother was a chemistry instructor there as well. Heald attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where she majored in chemistry. The department was too small to provide lab work until her last year, when she did her first research project in Donna Brown's biochemistry lab. For two years she worked as a research associate for Sarah Hitchcock-DeGregori, helping her set up her lab in New Jersey, doing some real analysis, and publishing some papers. During her time in Brown's lab, Heald heard Bernardo Nadal-Ginard give a talk that influenced her to apply to Harvard University for graduate school. There she worked with Frank McKeon. She did her postdoctoral fellowship with Eric Karsenti at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, where her research focused on spindle formation. She accepted a position at the University of California, Berkeley, and set up her lab. Heald concludes the interview by discussing current and planned research on chromosome architecture and mitotic spindle assembly; practical applications of her work; and the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award on her work.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0613
No. of pages: 92
Minutes: 350

Interview Sessions

Robin Mejia
17-19 October 2005
University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California

Abstract of Interview

Rebecca W. Heald grew up in Greenville, a small college town in western Pennsylvania, where she was the youngest of three daughters. Her father was a chemistry professor at Thiel College in Greenville, and her mother was a chemistry instructor there as well. Heald's father's sabbatical took the family to New Zealand when Heald was four; she learned to read there and still loves to read. When she was in junior high school, her father took another sabbatical; this time the family went to Australia. In high school Heald had a very good teacher of calculus and one of English whom she found inspiring. In general she found her science instruction lacking, even in the advanced after-school class she took. She was editor of and photographer for the yearbook in her high school, which included eighth through twelfth grades. Their parents always expected that all three girls would not only go to college, but would also get advanced degrees. As it happens, all three ended up in science fields, Heald's sisters becoming doctors. Heald and her family considered a liberal arts education very important, so she attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where she majored in chemistry. The department was too small to provide lab work until her last year, when she did her first research project in Donna Brown's biochemistry lab. For two years she worked as a research associate for Sarah Hitchcock-DeGregori, helping her set up her lab in New Jersey, doing some real analysis, and publishing some papers. During her time in Brown's lab, Heald heard Bernardo Nadal-Ginard give a talk that influenced her to apply to Harvard University for graduate school. There she worked with Frank McKeon. Here she describes the graduate program at Harvard; McKeon's mentoring style; her work day during graduate school; and the process of writing her thesis. Then she talks about her doctoral work on the dynamics of the nuclear envelope during the cell cycle. She wanted to go to Europe for a different lifestyle and to be farther from her family, so she did her postdoctoral fellowship with Eric Karsenti at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, where her research focused on spindle formation. She describes Karsenti's mentoring style and the running of the EMBL. At that point Heald decided she wanted to be back in the United States, and on the West Coast, at a larger university, preferably a public school and one that was helpful and supportive of its faculty. She accepted a position at the University of California, Berkeley, and set up her lab. Here she discusses general issues of grant writing; women as principal investigators; gender issues in science; publishing; funding in general, as well as funding in Europe compared with funding in the United States; foreign students; and ethics in science. She talks about her role in the lab; her lab management style; her collaborations; and her teaching and administrative responsibilities. Heald concludes the interview with information about current and planned research on chromosome architecture and mitotic spindle assembly; practical applications of her work; and an explanation of the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award on her work. She talks about what she likes most about being a principal investigator and describes a typical work day, finishing with her leisure activities.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1985 Hamilton College BA Chemistry
1993 Harvard Medical School PhD Cellular and Molecular Physiology

Professional Experience

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Rutgers University

1985 to 1987
Research Assistant, Anatomy and Cell Biology Department

European Molecular Biology Laboratory of Heidelberg

1993 to 1997
Postdoctorate, with Eric Karsenti and Tony Hyman

University of California, Berkeley

1997 to 2003
Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular & Cell Biology
2003
Associate Professor, Department of Molecular & Cell Biology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1990 to 1992

Ryan Pre-doctoral Fellowship

1993 to 1996

American Cancer Society Post-doctoral Fellowship

1999 to 2003

Pew Scholars Award in Biomedical Sciences

2000

Hellman Award

2001

Editorial Board, Journal of Cell Biology

2003

Cancer Research Coordinating Committee

2004

Member, NIH Study Section Nuclear Dynamics and Transport

2005

American Society for Cell Biology, Women in Cell Biology Junior Career Achievement Award

Table of Contents

Childhood, College, and Starting Graduate School
1

Family background. Early schooling. Childhood interests and experiences. Attending junior and high school in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Extracurricularactivities. Parental expectations. Majors in chemistry at Hamilton College inClinton, New York. College experiences. First research project in biochemistrywith Donna Brown. Works as a research assistant for Sarah Hitchcock-DeGregori. Attends graduate school at Harvard University. PhD work with Frank McKeon.

Graduate School, Postdoctoral Research, and Becoming Faculty
17

Graduate program at Harvard University. Doctoral work on the dynamics of thenuclear envelope during the cell cycle. McKeon's mentoring style. Workdayduring graduate school. Writing thesis. Postdoctoral fellowship with EricKarsenti at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. Research on spindle formation. Karsenti's mentoring style. European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Accepts a position at the University of California, Berkeley. Setting up laboratory. Collaborations. Grant-writing process. Current researchon chromosome architecture and mitotic spindle assembly. Percentage of womenas principal investigators. Gender. Laboratory management style.

The Scientific Life
57

Writing journal articles. More on laboratory management style. Duties toprofessional community. Funding history. Pew Scholars Program in theBiomedical Sciences. European system of funding research. Number of foreignstudents as science graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the United States. Ethical issues in science. Teaching responsibilities. Travel responsibilities. Future research in cell biology reconstituting the spindle assembly of mitosis. Practical applications of research. Leisure activities. Conducting scientificresearch.

Index
90

About the Interviewer

Robin Mejia