Yuri A. Lazebnik
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Yuri A. Lazebnik was born in Severomorsk, Russia. After his parents' divorce, his mother moved with him to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), but after she became ill, he was raised, for a few years, in Shakti by his maternal grandmother before returning to his mother's rearing. His father was in the navy, his mother was the valedictorian of her high school and went to college in Leningrad, training as a mathematician until Lazebnik was born—later she worked whatever jobs she could find. Lazebnik and his mother shared a two-room apartment with another family in a building situated between other buildings that housed various academic departments at the local university. He and his mother did not have much during the Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbechev eras; Lazebnik worked regularly through high school and college to support himself and his mother. He was an avid reader, enjoying the works of Jules Verne and other writers, though as a teenager Barry Commoner's The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology truly impacted his beliefs and made Lazebnik consider environmental science as a career. He joined St. Petersburg State University for his undergraduate degree in biology; he quickly changed his mind from pursuing ecology as a major since he could not find any advisor in that field. He progressed through the typical undergraduate coursework and applied to continue his education as a graduate student in the laboratory of Valerei Yu. Vasiliev. In Vasiliev's lab, Lazebnik's project was to study cell cycle, but in order to study cell cycle he needed a flow cytometer, a device that cost more than most departments' yearly budgets, possibly, according to Lazebnik, even more than the entire university's budget. So since he did not have the funds to purchase such a device he used the informal system of favor-swapping in Russia to obtain the materials he needed to build his own device. Lazebnik undertook postdoctoral studies in the N. N. Nikolsky laboratory at the Institute of Cytology of the Academy of Sciences, and then a short stint as a visiting scientist at the Commissariat á l'Énergie Atomique in France. Then the August Putsch of 1991 occurred in Moscow, spurring Lazebnik's decision to take a position in the United States; he received much support from William C. Earnshaw who expedited a work visa for Lazebnik. Lazebnik entered the Earnshaw laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland in November of 1991 and his family followed him the following month; he began his work on apoptosis. From Hopkins he moved on to a position at Cold Spring Harbor in New York. Throughout the interview Lazebnik reflects on life in Russia during the Brezhnev and Gorbachev years, especially as it compares to his life in the United States. At the end of the interview he talks about his community-service, editorial, and administrative responsibilities; balancing work and family life; his interest in aikido; the "corporatization" of scientific research; patents; and maintaining quality research in his lab. He concludes the interview with a discussion of moral relativism; the ethics of using animals in scientific research; the importance of learning the history of science; and the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.
|1981||St. Petersburg State University||MS||Biology/Biochemistry|
|1986||St. Petersburg State University||PhD||Biochemistry|
Centre d’Études Nucléaire
Johns Hopkins University
Institute of Cytology of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Fellowship, UNESCO Human Genome Program
Postdoctoral First Prize, Johns Hopkins University
Pew Scholarship in the Biomedical Sciences
Table of Contents
Family background. Early education in St. Petersburg. Childhood interests and activities. Difficulty of traveling in and out of the Soviet Union. Relaxed political atmosphere during the Brezhnev era. Striking impact of Gorbachev's reforms. Compares Russian society before and after the collapse of the Soviet system. Soviet educational system. Early interests. Growing interest in environmental science. Genesis of his interest in cancer. Religion. Job history in the Soviet Union. Reasons for attending St. Petersburg State University as an undergraduate. Coursework. Why he did not become an ecologist. Career alternatives after graduation.
Helps build a flow cytometer. Informal system of favor-swapping in Russia for needed material and goods. Graduation requirements for the PhD. Meets his wife, Gula N. Nourjanova. Children. Postdoc in the N. N. Nikolsky lab on cytometry and imunofluorescence. Decision to come to the United States to work in the William C. Earnshaw lab. Works briefly at the Commissariat á l'Énergie Atomique in France. Attempted communist coup in Russia. Processof learning English. Rapid adjustment to living in the United States. Early research in the Earnshaw lab. Work on apoptosis. Reaction to his first co-written paper on apoptosis.
Cold Spring Harbor. Living in the New York City area. Writing his first grant. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award. Writing journal articles. Teaching responsibilities. Compares students at State University of New York, Stony Brook, Watson School of Biomedical Sciences, and those in Russia. Balancing work and family. Lab management style.
Community-service, and editorial and administrative responsibilities. Interest in increasing his time at the bench. Aikido. Typical workday. Current research on apoptosis. Serendipity in scientific discovery. Competition in science. Growing corporatization of scientific research. Patents. Moral relativism. History of science. Immediate goals. Praises the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.