The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Judith M. White grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When she was in junior high school, her family moved to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She is one of two children of an insurance agent and a school librarian. She did not have an interest in science until she got to high school, when she had good chemistry and physics teachers, but hated dissecting frogs in biology.
White chose Franklin and Marshall College in nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and entered its first coeducational class; she majored in chemistry, the only woman in her class to do so. Carl Pike, her biology teacher and lab supervisor, inspired her interest in biology. She was able to spend two summers doing research, the first at University of Rochester, where she discovered membranes, and the second at Bryn Mawr College, where she worked in plant physiology. She also became active in backstage work in the theater.
For graduate school White chose the biophysics program at Harvard University, again the only woman in her class. She completed her thesis work in Don Wiley’s lab, intrigued by the ability of viruses to insert their DNAs into cells. During this time she also worked in Michael Waterfield’s lab at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, England. White enjoyed Ari Helenius’s work on membranes and chose his lab at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, for her postdoctoral work. Helenius’s lab eventually moved to Yale University, and White decided it was time to start her own lab.
The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), recruited White to help build a cell biology program. She still focuses on membranes but with a broader scope that includes a virological/pharmacological perspective. While working on the Semliki Forest virus, White discovered the importance of pH in surface fusion or lack thereof. She feels that UCSF now has the best cell biology program on the West Coast.
White contrasts Wiley’s and Helenius’s management styles, and describes her own as “not hard-driving enough.” What they all have in common is their love of and enthusiasm for science. White loves bench work and tries to do as much as she can. She also likes mentoring and teaching students. White has numerous publications, but she believes that the number of one’s publications is a poor measure of ability as a scientist. White says she had positive and strong female role models, and believes a sense of humor is important. She advises students to talk with other scientists and not just to read books. She believes individual success is about doing one’s best, and to not feel victimized by circumstances. In her too-little spare time she still attends the theater.
|1973||Franklin and Marshall College||BA||Chemistry|
European Molecular Biology Laboratory of Heidelberg
Yale University School of Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
|1980 to 1982||
Swebilius Cancer Research Award, Yale University School of Medicine
|1985 to 1989||
Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences Award
Table of Contents
Born in Philadelphia. Moved to just outside Philadelphia for junior high school. Family background. No early interest in science. Enjoyed math, chemistry, and physics, but not biology.
Matriculated at Franklin and Marshall College. Only woman to major in chemistry. Excellent undergraduate teaching. Carl Pike sparks interest in biology classes and labs. Plant physiology during summer at Bryn Mawr College. Summer research at University of Rochester in Ioav Cabantchik’s lab, funding from U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Interest in membranes.
Harvard University for graduate school, studying biophysics. Again the only woman. First thesis lab with Guido Guidotti, switched to Don Wiley’s lab. Intrigued by viruses. Work in Michael Waterfield’s lab. Friendship with Mary Jane Gething. Ari Helenius and Wiley, their work, and their enthusiasm.
Considers virology and John Skehel’s lab, but chooses Helenius. Enjoys Helenius’s work on membrane structures of viruses. European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany. Cooperative environment. No grants. Excellent scientists. Rigorous, very good training. Interdisciplinary. Contrast between Wiley’s management style and Helenius’s.
Recruited to University of California, San Francisco, by Peter Walter, Henry Bourne. Focus on membranes, but with broader virological scope. Works mostly with influenza virus. Collaborations with other scientists. Describes cell surface fusion. Semliki Forest virus work. Helenius and endocytosis; finding that pH the crucial factor.
Desire to learn more about genetics. Advice for students. Likes bench work, does as much as she can manage. Enjoys working with students. Thinks she’s not hard-driving enough. Thinks quantity of publications unreliable for evaluation of scientist. Strong female role models. Sense of humor important.