Monica L. Vetter

Born: April 8, 1963 | Scarborough, ON, CA

Monica L. Vetter grew up in Markham, Canada, and attended McGill University. Her interest in science led to several summers spent in various academic labs working on muscle contraction, motor cortex and motor control in primates, and neural control of eye movements. She attended University of California, San Francisco, for graduate school, researching molecular genetics and signaling pathways in neuronal cells. She remained there for a postdoc in Yuh Nung Jan's laboratory, focusing on ath5 transcription factor and the regulation of the initial events in vertebrate retinal neural development. Finally, she accepted a faculty appointment at University of Utah. Vetter talks about the biomedical revolution, her decision to pursue academic research, patents, history of science, and the role of scientists in scientific public policy and literacy.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0514
No. of pages: 91
Minutes: 273

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
5 and 8 November 2004
University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

Abstract of Interview

Monica L. Vetter grew up in Markham, Ontario, Canada, the eldest of three siblings. Vetter's father worked for Honeywell and in the computer industry generally—and was gifted musically—and her mother was a nurse who, later in life, founded the Head Injury Association of Toronto, in part in response to a family tragedy. Vetter's parents provided her with access to all the things typical of childhood: gymnastics, swimming, and piano lessons; she loved reading, spending much time in the library, playing soccer, and having fun with her brothers outdoors. She entered McGill University, deciding to major in biosciences. Her interest in science led to several summers spent in various academic labs working on muscle contraction at the University of Ottawa, motor cortex and motor control in primates at the University of Toronto, and eye movements and the neural control of eye movements at McGill. Wanting to experience the academic world beyond the confines of the traditional Canadian/American school systems, Vetter spent a year abroad at the Free University in Berlin, Germany. During her time there, she applied to and was accepted at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where she conducted research in the lab of J. Michael Bishop on molecular genetics and signaling pathways in neuronal cells. She remained at UCSF to undertake a postdoctoral position in Yuh Nung Jan's laboratory focusing on ath5 transcription factor and the regulation of the initial events in vertebrate retinal neural development. From there she accepted a faculty appointment at the University of Utah, developing her research on retinal neurogenesis. At the end of the interview, Vetter talks about the biomedical revolution and her decision to pursue academic research rather than work in industry; the issue of patents; her interest in the history of science; and the role of the scientist in scientific public policy and literacy. She concludes with thoughts about the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award on her work and the process of conducting scientific research.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1986 McGill University BA
1994 University of California, San Francisco PhD Neuroscience

Professional Experience

University of California, San Francisco

1994 to 1996
Postdoctoral Fellowship with Dr. Yuh Nung

University of Utah, School of Medicine

1996 to 2002
Assistant Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy
2002
Associate Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy
2005
Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

Honors

Year(s) Award
1982 to 1986

R.E. Powell Entrance Scholarship, McGill University

1984

University of Ottawa Summer Research Scholarship

1985

NSERC Summer Research Award, University of Toronto

1985 to 1986

Miriam Hills Scholarship, McGill University

1986

University Scholar, McGill University

1986

Governor General’s Gold Medal, Faculty of Science, McGill University

1988 to 1993

Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellowship

1998 to 2002

Pew Scholars Award

Table of Contents

Growing Up and Going to College in Canada
1

Growing up in Markham, Ontario, Canada. Family background. Parents. Brothers. Interests. Early schooling. Parental expectations. Attends McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Studies in Berlin, Germany.

Graduate School and Postdoctoral Work at the University of California, San Francisco
17

Attends graduate school at University of California, San Francisco. College experiences at McGill University. Experiences at Free University of Berlin in Germany. Graduate research with J. Michael Bishop. Religion. Husband. Children. Graduate research in molecular genetics on signaling pathways in neuronal cells. Postdoctoral work in Yuh Nung Jan's laboratory on ath5 transcription factor and regulation of the initial events in vertebrate retinal neural development.

Reflections on Mentors and Becoming Faculty
31

More on ath5 and transcription factor regulation of vertebrate retinal neurogenesis. Typical day in the J. Michael Bishop laboratory. Gender issues in science. Yuh Nung Jan's mentoring style. Accepts a position at the University of Utah. Settingup lab. Current research in the molecular developmental biology of retinal neurogenesis. Practical applications. Administrative duties. Teaching responsibilities. Qualities of a good scientist. Travel commitments. Funding history. Grant-writing process. Laboratory management style. Writing journal articles. Duties to professional community. Balancing family and career. Leisure activities. A typical workday. Decision to pursue academic research rather than industry.

The Practice of and Reflections on Science
53

Patents. History of science. Tenure at University of Utah. Competition and collaboration in science. Criteria for prioritizing research projects. Setting the national scientific agenda. Role of the scientist in scientific public policy and literacy. Privatization of scientific research. Percentage of women as graduate students and principal investigators (PIs). Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index
89

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten