Hannele Ruohola-Baker

Born: December 10, 1959 | Kullaa, FI

Hannele Ruohola-Baker was born in Kullaa, Finland. While at the University of Helsinki, a dynamic biochemistry professor, Ossi Renkonen, introduced her to the practice of scientific research; she joined his lab and began work on studying particular carbohydrates in proteins. After receiving her bachelor's and master's, Ruohola-Baker decided to pursue graduate school abroad, ultimately entering Yale University. She worked in the labs of Terry Platt's lab and Susan Ferro-Novick, developing an assay for cellular transport. Over the course of two postdocs, Ruohola-Baker moved away from protein secretion into the field of developmental biology, studying Drosophila and oogenesis. She is now a principal investigator at the University of Washington, Seattle. 

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

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0526
No. of pages: 93
Minutes: 350

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
20-21 and 27 May 2002
University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Abstract of Interview

Hannele Ruohola-Baker was born in Kullaa, Finland—a small farming village—the younger of two siblings. Her mother was a banker who always had an interest in learning, though did not have many opportunities for education earlier in her life. Ruohola-Baker spent much time with her maternal grandparents, since they lived nearby, and played with her older brother and his friends in the surrounding forests. She was always goal-oriented and did well in school; Finland had a very diverse educational system that provided equal education in all subjects (as much time was devoted to music as to science, for example). The local church was central to the community and informed much of Ruohola-Baker's early life. She matriculated at the University of Helsinki, where Ruohola-Baker developed an interest in the study of molecules. A dynamic biochemistry professor, Ossi Renkonen, intrigued her and introduced her to the practice of scientific research; she joined his lab and began work on studying particular carbohydrates in proteins. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Helsinki and decided to pursue graduate school abroad, ultimately entering Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. While transitioning to life in the United States and learning about American culture, Ruohola-Baker began her graduate research in Terry Platt's lab, but then moved into Susan Ferro-Novick's lab, developing an assay for cellular transport. As it turns out, David Baker, her future husband, was working on the same problem in Randy Schekman's lab at the University of California, Berkeley and both she and Baker developed the assay successfully on the same day. From Yale she went on to a brief visiting Fellowship at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, and to a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco with Yuh Nung and Lily Jan. Ruohola-Baker moved away from protein secretion into the field of developmental biology, studying Drosophila and oogenesis. From there, she and her husband accepted principal investigator positions at the University of Washington, Seattle. At the end of the interview she discusses her current research on cell polarity in Drosophila and possible applications of her research; the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding process; writing articles; balancing work and family responsibilities; and a typical workday. Ruohola-Baker concludes with thoughts on the nature of competition and collaboration in science; the national science agenda; the privatization of scientific research; gender issues and questions of race in science; and the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award on her work.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1984 University of Helsinki BA
1989 University of Helsinki MSc Biochemistry
1993 University of California, San Francisco PhD Cell Biology

Professional Experience

Karolinska Institute

1989
Visiting Fellow, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

University of California, San Francisco

1989 to 1993
Postdoctoral Fellow

University of Washington

1993
Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry
2000
Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry
2001
Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Genome Sciences
2002
Associate Professor of Graduate Program in Neurobiology and Behavior
2004
Professor, Department of Biochemistry
1995
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics

Honors

Year(s) Award
1986 to 1989

Nordic Yeast Research Program Predoctoral Fellowship

1989

Academy of Sciences Award (Finland)

1989

Predoctoral award from the Oskar Oflund Foundation

1989 to 1991

EMBO Postdoctoral Fellowship

1992 to 1994

ACS Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship

1995 to 1997

Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Research Award

1995 to 2000

American Heart Association Established Investigatorship Award

1996 to 2000

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Childhood interests and experiences in Kullaa, Finland. Early schooling. The Finnish educational system. Influential teachers. Junior high and high school experiences. Decision to leave Kullaa. First interest in biology. Religion. Church as a community organization.

College Years and Graduate School
17

Transition from high school to college. Helsinki, Finland. The University of Helsinki. Interest in the study of molecules. Ossi Renkonen. Her first laboratory experiments. Interest in protein secretion. Yale University. Impressions of the United States. Transition into the Terry Platt lab. Assay for cellular transport. David Baker.

More on Graduate School and Postdoctoral Years
31

Susan Ferro-Novick. Move away from protein secretion to developmental biology questions. The Yuh Nung and Lily Jan lab at the University of California, San Francisco. Brief time at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. The study of Drosophila. Oogenesis. Decision to accept principal investigator position at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Faculty Years
44

Challenges in establishing her lab. Current research on cell polarity inDrosophila. Possible applications of her research. Teaching responsibilities. Grant writing. National Institutes of Health funding process.

Final Thoughts
59

Article writing. Lab management style. NIH study sections. Balancing work and family responsibilities. Leisure activities. Competition and collaboration in science. Privatization of scientific research. Patents. Gender issues. The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index
91

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten