Susan M. Parkhurst

Born: August 25, 1960 | Tacoma, WA, US

Susan M. Parkhurst was born in Tacoma, Washington. She matriculated at Johns Hopkins University, where she profited from an inspirational developmental biology class and a friendship with a graduate student, Suki Parks. She continued at Hopkins for graduate school, where she joined Victor G. Corces' lab. Next, Parkhurst undertook a postdoc in the David Ish-Horowicz lab at Oxford University. Her work on hairy-wing led to the discovery of how to count chromosomes for sex determination and the transduction of sex-determining signals by helix-loop-helix proteins. She is now a principal investigator at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She discusses encouraging women and minorities in science, relationships between research institutions and pharmaceutical companies, gene patents, and her excitement about doing science. 

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0552
No. of pages: 161
Minutes: 451

Interview Sessions

Steven J. Novak
14-16 December 1996
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington

Abstract of Interview

Susan M. Parkhurst was born in Tacoma, Washington, but raised in California, Alaska, North Carolina, and Colorado (where she attended high school), the second oldest of seven siblings. Both of her parents were in the U. S. Air Force (hence the travel)—her mother a radar officer, her father an airplane mechanic—though later in life, when Parkhurst was in high school, both of her parents went to college to obtain degrees. She was an avid reader and she played the flute, the bassoon, and the glockenspiel either in her school's marching band or in its orchestra. While she excelled in school, her education was also somewhat disrupted by the moves to various states, such that she never had a class in geometry but repeated some classes due to the different structures of state educational systems. While in high school she also participated in Explorers, which focused, in part, on seeing medical professionals at work. Although not entirely certain of what career she wanted to pursue, Parkhurst matriculated at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, starting on the pre-medical track. She recalled that her first two years at the institution were fraught with being in classes more advanced than the training she had in high school (like starting in Calculus III instead of Calculus II), most of which required rote learning, though once she began her junior year and started taking graduate-level classes in her field, which required thoughtful intellectual expression, that all changed. Also, she profited from an inspirational developmental biology class with Allen Shearn, who became a mentor, and from a friendship with a graduate student, Suki Parks, who provided guidance. While she worked a number of different jobs as an undergraduate, many during the summers, she felt fortunate to work for a Veterans Administration hospital studying nosocomial infections and to be an undergraduate teaching assistant. Having decided to pursue a graduate education in science rather than medicine, Parkhurst applied to various schools around the country but, with support from Shearn and Philip E. Hartman, she was allowed to continue at Hopkins. At Hopkins she rotated through Eric A. Fyrberg and Yuan Chuan Lee's labs and settled into the lab of Victor G. Corces for her doctoral research on suppression mechanisms, ultimately succeeding in the cloning of the suppressor of hair-wing locus. Parkhurst wanted to broaden her scientific background and chose to undertake a postdoctoral position abroad in the David Ish-Horowicz lab at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. After spending some time on transregulators and transposable elements, her work on hairy-wing led to the discovery of how to count chromosomes for sex determination and the transduction of sex-determining signals by helix-loop-helix proteins, which, in turn, led to a study of mutations in pattern formation in Drosophila and screens for early development mechanism suggesting the presence of an unknown bicoid-like gene for anterior/posterior patterning. Parkhurst then returned to the United States, taking a second postdoctoral position with Howard D. Lipshitz at the California Institute of Technology before accepting a principal investigator position at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. The interview concludes with Parkhurst's thoughts on the ways in which her lab brings heterogeneous methods to the study of developmental genetics; on her commitment to mentoring lab personnel; and on the status of women in the sciences. She ends the interview discussing her efforts to encourage women and minorities in the sciences; Harold M. Weintraub's contribution to intellectual life at Hutchinson; the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences and the benefits of attending the Pew annual meetings; relationships between basic research institutions and pharmaceutical companies; gene patents; and her excitement about doing science. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1982 Johns Hopkins University BA Biology
1985 Johns Hopkins University PhD Developmental Biology

Professional Experience

Johns Hopkins University

1985 to 1986
Postdoctoral Fellow

Imperial Cancer Research Fund

1986 to 1989
Postdoctoral Fellow

California Institute of Technology

1990 to 1991
Research Fellow

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

1992 to 1994
Assistant Member
1995 to 1997
Associate Member

Honors

Year(s) Award
1986 to 1989

Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship

1989

Imperial Cancer Research Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship

1992 to 1994

Basil O'Connor Starter Research Award

1992 to 1994

James A. Shannon Director's Award

1992 to 1995

American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Research Award

1992 to 1996

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1995 to 2000

Leukemia Society of America Scholar

Table of Contents

Early and College Years
1

Family background. Siblings. Undergoes heart surgery as a child. High school courses. An inspirational science teacher. Undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins University. Extracurricular activities in high school. Premed-oriented rote learning. Allen Shearn lab. Summer work on nosocomial infections.

Undergraduate Research and Graduate School
24

An inspirational developmental biology class with Shearn. Meets Suki Parks. Inspiring lab experience. Shearn and Philip E. Hartman arrange for Parkhurst to be admitted to graduate school at Johns Hopkins. Judging whether a prospective student or postdoc will do well in the lab. Hiring technicians who plan to enter graduate school. Undergraduate lab experience. Rotations in the Eric A. Fyrbergand Yuan Chuan Lee lab. Johns Hopkins biology department curriculum. Victor G. Corces lab. Research on suppression mechanisms.

Laboratory Life and Postdoctoral Work
43

Saul Roseman. Benchwork. Cloning the suppressor of Hairy-wing locus. Decision to supplement molecular biology background with a postdoc in developmental biology. Informal interviews for postdoc positions. Enters the Ish-Horowicz lab at Oxford University. Postdocs in the Allan C. Spradling lab. Projects on transregulators and transposable elements. Work on hairy leads to the discovery of how to count chromosomes for sex determination. Transductionof sex-determining signals by helix-loop-helix proteins. Studying mutations in pattern formation in Drosophila. Screens for early development mechanism suggest the presence of an unknown bicoid-like gene for anterior/posterior patterning. Genes that are used twice in Drosophila development. Nomenclature in the biological sciences. Howard D. Lipshitz lab at California Institute ofTechnology.

From Postdoc to Factory
82

Adjusting to life in Southern California. The value of learning the history of the field from senior researchers. The job market. Accepts a principal investigator position at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The atmosphere at Hutchinson. Promotion and funding at Hutchinson. Start-up grants and awards. Recruiting graduate students. Continues benchwork. A collaboration withStephen M. Cohen. Heterogeneous methods to the study of developmental genetics. Lab management and safety. Mark T. Groudine. Funding structures at Hutchinson. Participates in a faculty search. The status of women in the sciences.

Career and Reflection on Science
126

Hutchinson's efforts to encourage women and minorities in the sciences. Hutchinson's expansion. Harold M. Weintraub. Drosophila. The scarcity of funding in the sciences. The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. The benefits of attending the Pew annual meetings. Publishing in the sciences. Interpreting scientific data. The limited clinical usefulness of gene therapy. Relationships between basic research institutions and pharmaceutical companies. Gene patents. Communication between basic research and clinical units at Hutchinson. Excitement about doing science.

Index
157

About the Interviewer

Steven J. Novak