Wilma M. Wasco

Born: August 18, 1959 | Bridgeport, CT, US
Photograph of Wilma Wasco

Wilma M. Wasco was raised in Fairfield, Connecticut. While at University of Connecticut, she worked for Guillermo Fallar, a neuroscientist, and Ian McClellan, biochemist, Wanting to study molecular pharmacology, she attended Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she conducted research with George A. Orr and published her first paper. She then took a postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working with Frank Solomon on microtubular-associated proteins, specifically identifying and characterizing amyloid precursor-like protein 1 (APLP1); during her studies she received a National Research Service Award. Wasco became a research fellow, and then an assistant professor at Harvard University, researching neuronal cell death in normal and neurodegenerative cells with implications for Alzheimer's disease research, and becoming an assistant geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0600
No. of pages: 118
Minutes: 400

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
2-4 October 2002
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

Wilma M. Wasco was raised in Fairfield, Connecticut—a town about forty-five minutes away from New York City—the oldest of three siblings. Her father was a lawyer and had a profound love of jazz music, also, later in life, he suffered from multiple sclerosis; her mother worked for a telephone company until her children were born and then, when older, pursued an interest in her own artistic expression. Wasco loved to read and play as a child, and for a time took music lessons from a jazz-artist who was a friend of her father. Her family was close-knit: they often took day trips together around the state. After some time in parochial school, Wasco entered the public system for junior high and high schools. She first became interested in science in the eighth grade due to a teacher, Mr. Somaski, but she was still uncertain of what career she wanted to pursue. She chose to attend the University of Connecticut for her undergraduate degree. Due to registration difficulties she was unable to enroll in science classes until her sophomore year, at which point she took an honors chemistry course, interesting her in science; she chose her major (biology) in her junior year, and only then began taking biology courses. While still an undergraduate she worked for Guillermo Fallar, a neuroscientist, and Ian McClellan, biochemist, in a neurobiology laboratory and she decided to go to graduate school. She wanted to study molecular pharmacology and she applied to and was accepted at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. While there she conducted her thesis research with George A. Orr, with whom she published her first paper, on calmodulin. From New York she moved on to a postdoctoral position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working with Frank Solomon on microtubular-associated proteins, specifically identifying and characterizing amyloid precursor-like protein 1 (APLP1); during her studies she received a National Research Service Award. She then became a Research Fellow in the neurology department at Harvard University and held a joint position with Massachusetts General Hospital, at which time she was working with Rudolph E. Tanzi (Pew Scholar Class of 1993) on cloning amyloid precursor-like protein 1 (APLP1). Wasco remained at Harvard University, becoming an assistant professor researching neuronal cell death in normal and neurodegenerative cells with implications for Alzheimer's disease research, and becoming an assistant geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital. The interview ends with Wasco discussing her work on presenilin 2; her research on calsenilin and amyloid precursor-like proteins, the long- and short-term applications of her work; and her opinion of biomedical research funding in the United States. She concludes with thoughts on balancing family and career; the privatization of scientific research; competition and collaboration in science; the national agenda for science; scientists and public policy; science literacy in the United States; and the role of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences in her work.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1981 University of Connecticut BS Biology
1983 Albert Einstein College of Medicine MS Molecular Pharmacology
1987 Albert Einstein College of Medicine PhD Molecular Pharmacology

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1987 to 1991
Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Cancer Research, Department of Biology

Harvard University

1991 to 1993
Research Fellow, Department of Neurology
1993 to 1994
Instructor, Department of Neurology
1994
Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology

Massachusetts General Hospital

1991 to 1993
Research Fellow, Neurology Service
1993
Assistant Geneticist, Neurology Service

Honors

Year(s) Award
1987

National Research Service Award

1993

Becton-Dickinson Research Fellowship Award

1997 to 2016

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

2016

MGH Women's Career Faculty Development Award

Table of Contents

Childhood
1

Family background. Father's interest in sports. Multiple sclerosis. Siblings. Family outings and interactions. Childhood activities in Girl Scouts. Interest in reading and music. Early schooling at St John Vianney parochial school in Fairfield, Connecticut.

High School, College, and Graduate School
19

Attends public junior high and high schools. Influential eighth grade science Teacher. Enjoys English classes. Religion. Extracurricular activities in high school. Parental expectations. Attends college at the University of Connecticut. Becomes interested in science while taking an honors chemistry class. Works as an undergraduate with neuroscientist Guillermo Fallar and biochemist Ian McClellan in a neurobiology laboratory. Decides to do graduate work in molecular pharmacology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Does her thesis work with George A. Orr. Orr's mentoring style. Publishes first paper on calmodulin while in graduate school.

Postdoctoral Work and Becoming Faculty
35

Does postdoctoral work on microtubular-associated proteins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under Frank Solomon. Receives funding from a National Research Service Award during her postdoctoral fellowship. Solomon's mentoring style. Social life as a postdoctoral fellow. Describes her work identifying and characterizing amyloid precursor-like protein 1 (APLP 1). Collaboration with Rudolph Tanzi on the genetics of Alzheimer's disease. Learns how to be a scientist and manage a laboratory from Tanzi. Becomes a research fellow at Harvard University. Joint position of assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and assistant geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Setting up laboratory. Lab management style. Research projects on APLP and the presenilin genes in Alzheimer's disease.

Current Research and Duties
59

Current research on calsenilin and amyloid precursor-like proteins. Long- and short-term applications of work. Duties as a principal investigator. Role in the laboratory. Travel commitments. Administrative duties. Funding history. Opinion on biomedical research funding in the United States. Writing journal articles. Duties to professional community. Typical workday. Assesses efforts to achieve professional goals.

Reflections on Science and Final Thoughts
82

Leisure activities. Balancing family and career. Being a principal investigator and a mother. Future research plans. Patents. Privatization of scientific research. Competition and collaboration in science. National science agenda. Scientists and public policy. Science literacy in the United States. Gender discrimination in science at the student and PI levels. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index
115

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten