Diane M. Papazian

Born: December 29, 1954 | Detroit, MI, US

Diane M. Papazian spent her early years in Detroit, where she exhibited an early interest in science. While studying chemistry at the University of Michigan, her organic chemistry class had students identify compounds without using modern methods, which Papazian found enthralling. Papazian entered graduate school at Harvard University, where she discovered neurobiology. She worked in Stanley M. Goldin's lab, reconstituting and purifying calcium transporting ATPases. Papazian accepted a postdoc at the Lily Y. and Yuh Nung Jan lab at the University of California, San Francisco, where she worked on cloning the Shaker gene. Next, she accepted a position at University of California, Los Angeles, and organized her lab there. She discusses her belief that neurobiology must be interdisciplinary, funding disparities, UCLA's atmosphere, and more. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0583
No. of pages: 58
Minutes: 250

Interview Sessions

Marcia L. Meldrum
16, 25 January and 7 February 1996
University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

Abstract of Interview

Diane M. Papazian spent her early years in Detroit, Michigan, the youngest of three children. Her father was an insurance salesman and administrator, her mother a housewife. She exhibited an early interest in science, thinking she would become an astronaut. When she was about eight or nine the family moved to Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, where Papazian attended a school that tracked students, so she was able to be in advanced classes of all subjects; she found the science instruction particularly excellent. She decided to attend the University of Michigan, though had been unable to choose between biology and chemistry and had thought that biochemistry would combine the two, but Michigan required her to major in chemistry. Her organic chemistry class had students identify a dozen compounds without using modern methods; figuring out how to go about that all on her own Papazian found enthralling. Her first experience in the lab was less successful than hoped, but she loved lab work. She noticed that there were no women on the faculty at Michigan, but she was undeterred. Still wanting to be a biochemist Papazian entered graduate school at Harvard University, where she discovered neurobiology. She worked in Stanley M. Goldin's lab; there she reconstituted and purified two types of calcium transporting ATPases as a thesis project. She found the learning environment at Harvard very stimulating. Papazian accepted a postdoc at the Lily Y. and Yuh Nung Jan lab at the University of California, San Francisco; there she worked on cloning the Shaker gene. Walking along the chromosome presented technical problems, exacerbating the tension caused by competition with other labs to clone the Shaker gene first. She describes the Jans's adventurous approach to science, which leads into her belief that one should follow his or her intellectual interests rather than being confined to one area of study. She continues with a description of the differences between the Jan and Goldin labs. Soon after, she accepted a position at University of California, Los Angeles because she would find there people whose work could both complement and supplement hers. She particularly had in mind a collaboration with Francisco Bezanilla, one in which she could demonstrate her innovative biochemical approach to the potassium channel field. She organized her lab and began research on the biogenesis of the channel, attacking the question of why the Shaker superfamily contains some channels that are not voltage-dependent, and identified the charged residues of the S4 and S2 sequences as contributors to the voltage sensor. She discusses postdocs and students in her lab and her management style; Bezanilla's inspiring enthusiasm for science; the challenges of teaching new material; the impact of early retirement policies on faculty teaching loads; and the pressure to secure grant money. When asked about other possible careers she mentions law, owning a bakery, teaching, and writing; she does not mention dancing, though she and her husband met dancing and continue to enjoy it. She concludes the interview discussing her belief that neurobiology must become more interdisciplinary; her view of funding disparities; her strategies for keeping abreast of the field; her impression of the atmosphere in the UCLA Department of Physiology; her philosophy of nature; and her recognition of the benefits of the Pew scholarship and her regard for the goals of the Pew Charitable Trusts. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1977 University of Michigan bs Chemistry
1983 Harvard University PhD Biological Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of California, San Francisco

1983 to 1989
Postdoctoral Fellow, Departments of Physiology and Biochemistry

University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine

1989 to 1994
Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology
1994 to 1997
Associate Professor, Department of Physiology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1973 to 1976

National Merit Scholar

1974

William J. Branstrom Freshman Prize, University of Michigan

1976

Moses Gomberg Fellow, Department of Chemistry, University of Michigan

1976

James B. Angell Scholar, University of Michigan

1976

Phi Lambda Upsilon

1977

Phi Beta Kappa

1989 to 1992

Klingenstein Fellow in the Neurosciences

1991 to 1995

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Family Background, College, and Graduate School
1

Early interest in science. Majors in chemistry at the University of Michigan. Lab experiences as an undergraduate. The low percentage of women in the chemistry department. Begins graduate work with Stanley M. Goldin at Harvard University. Reconstitutes and purifies two types of calcium transporting ATPases as a thesis project.

Postdoctoral Years
13

Enters the Lily Y. and Yuh Nung Jan lab at the University of California, San Francisco. Cloning the Shaker gene. Technical challenges. Competition to clone the Shaker gene. The Jans's adventurous approach to science.

Faculty Years
25

Accepts a position at UCLA. Collaborates with Francisco Bezanilla. Research on potassium channels. Organizing her lab at UCLA. Research on the biogenesis of the channel. Identifies the charged residues of the S4 and S2 sequences as contributors to the voltage sensor. Generating models for the packing of transmembrane segments.

Final Thoughts
38

The impact of early retirement policies on faculty teaching loads. The pressure to secure grant money. Recreational dancing. Strategies for keeping abreast of the field. The atmosphere in the UCLA Department of Physiology. Philosophy of nature. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index
56

About the Interviewer

Marcia L. Meldrum