Scientist of the Month
by Karen Chien, PhD.
Joan is a well established investigator who has published over 50 peer reviewed articles in journals including the Journal of Physiology-Lung and the Journal of Immunology. Her research interests range from leukocyte migration during inflammation and allergic disease to the signaling of vascular endothelial adhesion molecule (VCAM-1). One of her most important findings involves the regulation of lung function by vitamin E isoforms. She discovered that when humans consumed gamma-tocopherol, the form of vitamin E found in corn, soybean, and canola oils, there was an association with a higher incidence of asthma; the consumption of alpha tocopherol, the vitamin E isoform present in olive and sunflower oils, was associated with increased lung function. Her work uncovered mechanisms in which vitamin E can regulate the immune system. This work of paramount importance in understanding the health benefits of vitamin E has been featured internationally in media and magazines including MORE Magazine, Medical Daily, and the New York Times.
Joan spent her childhood in the small town of Charlevoix in northern Michigan, where there were only two stoplights when she was growing up! She has always had an interest in science and medicine. Although she majored in pre-medicine during college, she found that she wanted to pursue research after talking to professionals in different areas. She became intrigued with immunology after a recruitment summer internship in an immunology focused lab within the biochemistry department at Michigan State University. After receiving her PhD, she completed postdoctoral research in the field of neuro-immunology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She then spent 13 years as faculty at the University of Cincinnati, where she enjoyed working with and being surrounded by immunologists, before coming to Northwestern.
Joan chose the academic track because of a good personality fit and interest level in science. But most importantly, she enjoys being able to dive deep into the interesting questions while exploring scientific literature. Ultimately, she hopes that her work can unravel biological mechanisms of the human body that can be used to help people live better and healthier lives. Her background allows her to be creative and to study the interface between immunology, vascular biology/cardiology, neurology, signaling, and nutrition.
The motivation and drive that Joan brings to the lab is inspiring to her students and mentees. Joan has mentored many students as part of the Summer Research Opportunities Program with a focus on minorities as well as trained many women of all ages. Her dedication to research is shown by her commitment to constantly working directly at the bench alongside her students. The reason why she remains active in the lab is that “doing the experiments helps to troubleshoot with students”. Her greatest satisfaction as a mentor and professor comes from seeing a student reach the “Eureka!” moment in understanding a scientific concept. She highly encourages women to seek resources and training through different programs. This exposure gives opportunities to talk to others to find out what one is good at and passionate about; both men and women mentors can have very complementing but unique perspectives which can be helpful. Also, she emphasizes that networking and maintaining a network is important for growth and success in science. Her main advice to young scientists is, “Do whatever you really like doing because you’re going to be doing it a lot”. Being passionate about your interests in your life is critical, and also “Never give up. Don’t ever be afraid. Just go for it!”
by Yomayra Guzman, PhD
Jelena Radulovic, M.D., Ph.D., is a Professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine with a dual appointment in the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and the Pharmacology departments. In 2013, Dr. Radulovic was installed as the Dunbar Professor of Bipolar Disorders. She is also an associate editor for The Journal of Neuroscience and a senior editor for the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.
Born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia, Jelena has been a scholar since her youth. Encouraged by her academic parents, Jelena learned from early on to nurture her intellect and curiosity about the world – she is fluent in Serbian, German, English, Italian, and French! During her formative years she personally witnessed the debilitating effects of neurological disease and decided to study medicine with a specialization in neuropsychiatry. Jelena received her medical degree from the University of Belgrade in 1988. Once at the “bedside,” she felt helpless because the treatments for neurological conditions at the time were mostly palliative. At that point, she understood the urgent need for basic research in neuroscience. Driven by her passion to understand neurological disease, Jelena completed a PhD in 1993. “At the beginning I hated research. It was messy!” Jelena admitted during the interview. “As a student, you learn about scientific discoveries in textbooks and they are written as facts. This was very different from science, where not one particular experiment is definitive and scientific models are constructed with time.” As time went by she became excited about her discoveries and felt fortunate that, as a researcher, she could be the first one to learn something new about the world.
Her passion for scientific research in neuroscience is palpable. Intellectually, she aspires to understand the intersection between the brain and the mind. By studying the molecular mechanisms that mediate acquisition, retrieval, and consolidation of fear memories, the Radulovic laboratory has identified key neurobiological pathways causing anxiety- and depression-like behaviors. Her academic success has been remarkable, and her research has been showcased several times in local and international news media.
An important piece of advice Jelena offers to young scientists is to not be afraid of debating, since open and honest discussions about their interests is the best way to overcome personal and professional barriers. “If there is one thing we can say about Tim Hunt, it is that his comments opened the door for honest discussions. Women and men all over the world were able to express themselves and make fun of the stereotypes,” Jelena mentioned. Jelena does not feel that her professional goals were negatively affected by her gender. In fact, her male graduate mentors, Professors Branislav Jankovic and Joachim Spiess, were quite progressive and always fostered equality in their laboratories. Influenced by these great mentors and by her own egalitarian ideals, Jelena strives to maintain a supportive atmosphere in her laboratory.
Her commitment to scientific training is obvious; Jelena states that the greatest joy of her profession is seeing her students grow and mature, both professionally and personally, throughout their training. She has mentored a substantial number of people throughout her career, many of whom have succeeded in academic and non-academic professions. In addition, Jelena collaborates with international scientists and provides her professional expertise to promote the creation of research programs in Serbia sponsored by NIH Fogarty International Center funds.
by Linda Foit, PhD
Marta New is a Principal at Baxalta Ventures where she identifies, evaluates and executes new investment opportunities in healthcare and biotechnology. She holds a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
In her current role in corporate venture capital, Marta uses strategic and analytical approaches on a daily basis when assessing the commercialization potential of new technologies to invest in. However, she has also successfully applied this line of thinking to find a fulfilling career path that best matches her interests and abilities. For instance, when nearing the end of her PhD training, she conducted some major soul-searching to determine which career would best fit her personality and her lifestyle expectations. After an initial goal to pursue an R&D position in the private sector but ending up doing a postdoc instead, she devised a plan on how a postdoctoral fellowship could best help her develop the skills she needed to succeed in a career in industry after academia. “I looked at everything I did during my postdoc through the lens of how it would look on my resume and how attractive it would look to big pharma”, Marta explains. By volunteering to take over management of the laboratory budget for example, she quickly gained experience in accounting, negotiation tactics and project management, skills that are highly valued outside of academia.
The single most influential decision however that Marta made during her time research time at Northwestern was to enroll in Kellogg’s MBA program. “Thinking like a PhD means thinking about problems very deeply” says Marta when explaining how business school has opened her up to new ways of approaching problems. “As an MBA, I now believe that there is value to thinking more broadly, knowing a little bit about everything, and then solving a problem as part of a team”. It was in one of her classes that Marta met Alicia Loffler, who taught a class on biotech management and is currently the Executive Director at Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO). “By asking lots of questions during and after class, I learned a tremendous amount from Alicia about the commercialization of technologies”, says Marta, underscoring the importance of identifying mentors one can learn from. The questions she asked after class were apparently good ones, as Alicia offered her a newly created position as Entrepreneur in Residence at INVO while pursuing her MBA. In this role, Marta provided strategic recommendations for patenting, licensing and commercialization of early stage therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices developed at Northwestern and also contributed to new venture formations at the Feinberg School of Medicine.
After successfully applying her business skills in an academic setting, Marta moved to the private sector to help manage the global portfolio of dialysis products for Baxter Healthcare. One of the challenges she faced during this transition was the difference in communication styles between scientists and business professionals. Marta explains that while in scientific discussions opinion discourse is highly encouraged, during business meetings open criticism is not necessarily appreciated. Instead of playing devil’s advocate, a constructive, solution-oriented feedback that leads to consensus is much more valued in a business setting. While Marta enjoyed applying her business knowledge to products on a global scale during her work in Baxter’s marketing division, she felt she did not utilize one of her biggest assets enough – her extensive scientific training. Again, to solve this problem Marta developed a strategic career plan so that she eventually would be able to better combine her savvy for business with her passion for science. After doing some research (like a true scientist), she identified a profession that would allow her to use both her PhD as well as her MBA training on a daily basis – venture capital. Through long-term networking and skills building, Marta was eventually able to secure a position in the highly competitive field of Venture Capital, a field that speaks both to her love for science and her interest in business. She also found a new mentor, her current supervisor Geeta Vemuri, Managing partner of Baxalta Ventures, who continues to coach Marta on relevant skills important in this industry.
To somebody who seeks to break into a new professional area (as Marta has done multiple times) she has the following advice: “First, identify where you want to go. Then identify two or three people in that field and offer your help for free.” Such project-based work is not only an excellent opportunity to receive feedback and get guidance on how to improve ones’ skills. In the end, offering rather than asking for help is also a great way of building lasting relationships.
By Barbara Di Eugenio, PhD
Brooke Shipley is Professor and Head of the Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She has been at UIC since 2003, when she was hired as an Associate Professor. She had previously earned tenure at Purdue University in 2002. She was promoted to Full Professor in 2007, served as Director of Graduate Studies from 2010 to 2012 and Acting Head in Fall 2013. She was appointed as Head in Fall 2014. Her field of research is Algebraic Topology, which she informally defines as “the study of high dimensional spaces and structures using algebra”. She currently has three PhD students.
Brooke credits her interests in math and science to a special math program she took part in during junior high, that exposed her to enriched material, including simplified examples from university level abstract algebra and to her mother, who taught mathematics at community colleges and junior and senior high schools. However, her path to mathematics was not completely straight. When she was in high school she aspired to be a medical doctor first and an engineer later. When she went to Harvard she initially planned to major in physics, but then discovered that her true passion is pure math, precisely because it is not applied. After obtaining her PhD from MIT, she had two postdocs, one at the University of Notre Dame and one at the University of Chicago.
Brooke has long been interested in gender and science and has been involved with student and faculty programs for women in science since college. UIC received an NSF ADVANCE grant in 2006 to support the Women in Science and Engineering System Transformation (WISEST) program with the goal to increase the number, participation, and leadership status of women in science and engineering at UIC. From 2009 to 2012, Brooke was a co-PI on this grant, representing women faculty in science and supporting the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs in her role as PI. Brooke was the Director of WISEST during 2012-2013.
Brooke credits her success in math to rarely doubting herself, to her mother’s example and support, and to the early math programs she took part in. Her advice to young girls is to take part in school math programs such as math circles and competitions, just having fun, and not worrying about the results. Additionally, they should actively seek other girls with the same interests. Brooke has always been seeking the professional support of other women mathematicians and scientists, and creating women groups if there was none. This is something Brooke still enjoys. The latest instance occurred when she co-led a group of six women in a research project at a one-week long workshop for women in topology, during summer 2013. They conducted research together at the workshop and the collaboration still continues by email and teleconferencing.
Brooke describes being Head of a department as “juggling 20 balls”. And she juggles additional balls, since Brooke has a 12 year old daughter to whom she devotes much of her time. Additionally, Brooke has been a dancer all her life, from ballet in grade school to modern as a graduate student to contact improvisation as a postdoc, to salsa as a professor. She also enjoys being in nature and hiking in the mountains. She has a chance to do so every summer, since her parents live in Colorado.
By Irena Antic, PhD
Dr. Dimitra Georganopoulou is the Innovation and Commercialization Officer at the Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO), the President of Women in Bio (WIB) and a past board member of Association for Women in Science (AWIS)-Chicago. In her current role at INVO at Northwestern University she employs the extensive set of scientific and interpersonal skills she acquired during her training in the US and Europe to help Northwestern inventors commercialize their research. Her typical day involves meetings with inventors, strategic partners, entrepreneurs and lawyers. She strives toward “work-life integration” instead of work-life balance and achieves it by spending quality time with her family, reading for pleasure, and pursuing her outreach interests.
Dimitra’s interest in science began when she was a young girl in Greece, where her father, an electrical engineer, fostered her natural inclinations towards science. By the time she entered college, she became fascinated with Physical Chemistry, in particular the field of electrochemical sensors with archaeological applications. Her graduate work took her to the UK, where she continued to learn about electrochemical sensors technologies and their various applications in biotechnology instead. While working on her PhD, Dimitra had a chance to meet with Rudolph Marcus, a Nobel Prize winner, at a small scientific conference. She credits this experience with teaching her that approaching discussions fearlessly with intelligent technical and personal perspective can be professionally rewarding.
Next, Dimitra moved to the United States to expose herself to state-of-the-art research and facilities and expand her field of expertise. She completed two postdocs, one at University of North Carolina with Prof. Royce Murray, and one at Northwestern University with Professor Chad Mirkin, though she always worked on sensors. While being very proactive, she ended up being at the right time and at the right place when Prof. Tom Meade recruited her for his burgeoning start-up Ohmx Corporation. During her years with Ohmx, Dimitra “wore many different hats” and learned about many aspects of product development, entrepreneurship and company operations. This experience taught her another important lesson: one can learn the most when you place yourself into the epicenter of a field or venture.
Over the years, Dimitra continued to develop and nurture relationships with her colleagues and became involved in AWIS, AACC (American Association of Clinical Chemists) and then WIB, which focuses on promoting careers and leadership opportunities for women in life sciences. Today she leads WIB, and gets much satisfaction from connecting professional women to each other, as well as enabling their career development. She firmly believes that “when you give, you indirectly get” and uses this guiding principle to foster mentorship and camaraderie within WIB. While with WIB, she has learned from various mentors that establishing meaningful relationships is a key to long-term success. Dimitra hopes to encourage female scientists to find a way to incorporate their passions into any work environment, cultivate their professional relationships, and believe in their place in the field of their choosing.
Authored By Kathleen M. Filetti-Shapiro (AWIS)
Edited by Diana Anderson, Argonne National Laboratory
Lisa Durham is a principal environmental engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary science and engineering research center run by the U.S. Department of Energy. She is also the interim director of the Leadership Institute at Argonne. The institute provides Argonne researchers and staff with tools and opportunities to develop their professional and leadership skills. “At Argonne, we believe that each individual has a distinct set of valuable skills and we teach people how to grow and capitalize on their abilities. Teaching people how to succeed is good for the individual and it’s good for science,” said Durham.
With more than 20 years of experience, Durham has successfully navigated the federal research sector. Her research focuses on soil, groundwater and environmental modeling for the characterization, remediation and closure of hazardous waste sites. Her work has been featured in a multitude of publications.
“It is essential that scientists and engineers build their leadership and communication skills in addition to their technical skill sets,” said Durham. “As a researcher, I know firsthand how fascinating and consuming life in the laboratory or out in the field can be. However, it is critical to be able to communicate your research, progress and goals effectively with collaborators, funders, stakeholders and with the public. We need to be able to communicate the value of science. If we don’t do that, who will?”
Throughout her career, Durham has also worked to communicate the value of women in science. From 2013 to 2015, she served as program initiator for Argonne’s Women in Science and Technology (WIST) program. The program was formed in 1990 to recruit, retain and promote women at Argonne in order to strengthen the laboratory’s scientific workforce.
“Women make up 27.5 percent of the nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce,” said Durham. “Obviously there’s room for improvement here. And I mean that both for society and for science. Scientific innovation happens when people look at a problem differently than anyone else has before. For this to happen, science needs a diverse set of perspectives and ideas. This means increasing the number of women and under-represented minorities in STEM fields.”
In 2012, Durham received the Argonne WIST Diversity Award for her contributions to diversity in science and engineering including her advocacy and encouragement of young women interested in STEM careers. Durham is a regular volunteer mentor at Argonne’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, an event where young female students have an opportunity to discover engineering careers alongside Argonne scientists and engineers. Durham also served on the Argonne Science Careers in Search of Women event planning committee for a decade. The event offers female high school students an opportunity to explore STEM professions and connect with Argonne’s world-class women scientists and engineers.
“Hands-on science and engineering activities at these events give students a taste of what it’s like to be a researcher,” said Durham. “I hope that lights a fire in their bellies and keeps them moving towards their goals. It’s particularly good for the girls to see how much they have in common with the scientist and engineer mentors they’re paired with. It gives them a real life role model and a quick glimpse of who they may end up being someday, career wise.”
Through the Women @ Energy series, the U.S. Department of Energy highlights some of the nation’s leading female scientists and engineers as role models for women in STEM fields. Durham and her work are featured there.
By Sarayu Ratnam
Dr. Ursula Storb, MD, is a Professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology. She is also a faculty member of the Committees on Immunology, Cancer Biology and Developmental Biology.
As a young girl Ursula wanted to study languages (she is proficient in German and English and familiar with French, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Latin and Greek) but decided to pursue a medical degree instead, encouraged by her physician father who hoped she would meet a fellow student that she could marry and who in turn would take over his clinic! She went through an intense period of medical training at the Universitaet Tubingen, Germany, then Universities of Vienna, Austria and Freiburg, Germany to obtain her medical degree. A chance article in the journal Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift about how antibodies were made stoked her interest in immunology and she decided to pursue research at the Institut Pasteur, Paris on a NATO fellowship. This was followed by a year-long stint at the Institut d’Immuno-Biologie, Paris, France and the Institut fuer Haematologie, Freiburg, Germany on a EURATOM fellowship where she studied delayed hypersensitivity (now called T-cell immunity).
After her post graduate training in Europe Ursula turned down a job offer in pediatrics to experience the American system of research and continue her by now strong interest in immunology. She came to the USA on a fellowship from the German Government and joined the University of Washington, Department of Microbiology where she pioneered the “Rosette assay” to identify lymphocytes that carried antibodies on their cell membrane. Her lab, in collaboration with Ralph Brinster at the University of Pennsylvania, was also the first to show that mouse transgenes can function normally without the inclusion of viral enhancers. She progressed to being a Professor and Head of the division of Immunology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, a position she held till 1986. She then joined the University of Chicago as Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology where she still continues.
At the University of Chicago, Ursula’s research has focused on the regulation of immunoglobulin gene rearrangement and hypermutation, and development of B-lymphocytes. Her lab was one of the first to identify the importance of transcription initiation to somatic hypermutation of immunoglobulin genes. Her lab also studies the role of DNA methylation and chromatin in development and Ig gene expression and recently identified a novel murine gene that causes specific methylation of a transgene during early development. She has more than 160 publications from her lab in various top-tier journals including Science and Cell. In addition, Ursula has extensive teaching experience where she has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Immunology, Molecular Biology, Vertebrate Developmental Genetics, and Cell Biology
Ursula has won many professional honors including being elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992 and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2007. She has also been an active member of various professional organizations including the Association of Women in Science since 1971. In fact, Ursula was present at the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) when AWIS was founded.
As a female scientist during the past 50-odd years Ursula has seen her share of female prejudice in the scientific community. While applying for a faculty position she was told by her advisor that “she didn’t really need an independent position since she had a successful husband”! Ursula stuck to her guns and convinced him that she indeed deserved the faculty position with respect to her achievements in the academic field. She was also advised by another successful female scientist that “as a woman she may have to be many times better than a man to succeed”.
Recognizing the need to support women in science Ursula, during her long tenure as a scientist and teacher, has always been a strong mentor to the women students and researchers in her lab, and outside, irrespective of which stage in their career they are at. In 1993, she founded a faculty committee to support graduate students from under-represented ethnic minorities in science. She has had many female undergraduate students work in her lab and has introduced them to various different scientific projects which enable these young women to experience scientific “bench work” before they actually have to decide on a career. In most cases, the experiences in her lab have led these women to pick science as a career choice. To the graduate students and post-docs in her lab she has always been supportive and accessible and exposed them to various different aspects of science including planning basic science experiments, science writing and scientific presentations and thus preparing them for an independent scientific career. In addition, research has shown that the main reason why women are so under-represented in the STEM fields is because women are still responsible for the majority of housework and childcare activities even when working full time outside the house. Ursula understood the demands placed on a young mother at home, especially during the early years and has helped her post-docs remain in science by encouraging flexible work hours in her lab.
A workaholic by nature, Ursula spends most of her day at the lab focusing on research and teaching. Outside of the lab she enjoys discussing and appreciating science, art and music with her partner Dr. Terence Martin with whom she has also had a long and productive research collaboration and who has been one of the most influential persons in her life. Given that her career encompassed her greatest interest in life, science, Ursula has been one of the few to truly follow her passion and become one of the most successful female scientists today.
By: Natalia Sanchez
Kirsten Moisio, PT, PhD literally sees dead people, every day. As the course coordinator and only instructor of human anatomy in the department of Physical Therapy (PT) and Human Movement Sciences, Dr. Moisio spends most of her time in the dark basements of Northwestern University’s medical school campus dissecting cadavers. However, she is quite the opposite from what one would expect a typical anatomist to be. In fact, if you ask her students for an adjective to describe her, the unanimous response would be: “awesome”. Despite the fact that anatomy may be one of the hardest classes students take as part of their PT training, Dr. Moisio makes sure they enjoy every second of it.
Kirsten was born in Waukegan, IL. Her first introduction to science was with her father, a chemical engineer. When Kirsten was in high school, she had jaw surgery followed by physical therapy, which shaped her future career. Kirsten majored in Kinesiology at the University of Illinois and had her first exposure to human anatomy while there. Early in the semester Kirsten found out that her lab partner would be absent for a month due to illness. She took it to heart to learn the material well so she could teach him when he returned. Kirsten was so evidently talented at teaching anatomy that she was invited to be a teaching assistant for the following year. This experience left a considerable impression on Kirsten and she considers this the major influence for her career as an anatomist.
Kirsten went on to earn a master’s degree in physical therapy at Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating, Kirsten came back to Chicago to work at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. She really missed teaching, however, and contacted Dr. Randy Perkins, an anatomy professor at Northwestern, but at that time there were no openings for a teaching assistant. Wishing to go back to her beloved anatomy, Kirsten decided to pursue a PhD in anatomy at Rush University. After completing her PhD, she did a postdoc at Rush in the tribology lab investigating gait and wear of total joint replacements. During this time, Kirsten got married and became a mom.
One day in 2005, Dr. Randy Perkins contacted Kirsten. He was planning to retire and she had come to mind when thinking about a replacement for one of Northwestern Universities most recognized professors. After nine years at Northwestern University, Kirsten is now an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences. She loves her job because she is able to combine her interests of teaching human gross anatomy with her research interests in the area of osteoarthritis. She is a co-investigator on projects aimed at defining targets for therapy to delay cartilage loss and poor outcomes in individuals with knee osteoarthritis.
Kirsten is now a mom of 3 kids ranging in age from 10 to 4. She is very thankful for her husband who is her main support for keeping “everything together in the sanity of a very busy household with two working parents”. She also credits her boss for his flexibility and understanding when it comes to responsibilities of working moms.
She absolutely loves teaching and enjoys interacting with hundreds of students every day. She attributes her success to her assertiveness, her energy, and her overall passion for anatomy. Kirsten would love for her kids to find their passion and be able to combine it with a career as she has done. Because if you love what you do, then you no longer have a job but a passion you get paid for.
By: Mrinal Y. Shah
Lucy A. Godley, MD, PhD, unlike many of us, knew early on what she wanted to do in life. Her first research experience came in high school, when she worked in a hematology lab at Yale University. That experience imprinted an interest in science and medicine at a young age, and she has stayed close to that field ever since. From there, she went on to Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, where she received a B.A. in Biochemical Sciences. She then entered the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of California, San Francisco, where she earned her PhD in the laboratory of Harold Varmus, MD. Lucy then received her MD from Northwestern University, and she has remained in Chicago ever since. She did her postdoctoral research and fellowship training in Hematology/Oncology at The University of Chicago, where she is now a Professor in the Section of Hematology/Oncology.
Lucy’s main research interest lies in the field of epigenetics. She has always been intrigued by the idea that the properties of DNA can be changed without changing the base sequence, and this area has proved fertile ground for her to merge basic research and clinical medicine. Lucy never wanted to be a private physician, deeming it “too routine,” and opted instead for the life of an academic researcher, which she finds more flexible and creative. As she says, “I get to ask a question that no one has asked before and then I get to know the answer first!”
In addition to her study of epigenetics, Lucy’s research has expanded in the past few years to include the study of germline predisposition to bone marrow-derived cancers, a project that developed from one of her clinic patients. In the past, the literature has described inherited leukemias as quite rare, but Lucy now has a cohort of more than 200 families that appear to have inherited forms of disease. Some of these families have contributed to the recent description of two new inherited syndromes, and she anticipates that there are many more to be discovered. This is a perfect example of what excites Lucy most about her work: not only interacting with patients to make a difference in their daily lives, but also being able to discover something new and move between the worlds of medicine and science.
Lucy has always been very supportive of and a great mentor to students and scientists who are in all different phases of their studies and careers. She herself has had many mentors along the way, starting back when she was that high school student working in the lab for the first time. These mentors “have stayed with (her) for decades…they are connections that have come back around and are now friends and colleagues.” She refers to her mentors and students as “one big family” that keeps expanding as time goes on.
Speaking of connections, Lucy’s own husband, Alfonso Mondragon, is someone whom she met in the lab next to hers while she was an undergraduate. Alfonso is also a successful scientist and a Professor at Northwestern University. They have two children and a busy family life, on top of their separate careers. Lucy attributes her work/life balance to the mutual respect and communication that she and Alfonso maintain in order for both to be successful.
Lucy fully admits that being a woman in science can present its own set of issues. “I feel the statistics…it’s subtle and it’s there,” she says ruefully, referring to the inequalities that still exist for women in STEM. However, she has never been one to let it get her down. When asked what advice she has for a successful career, she declares, “Find your passion, because when you are exploring your passion, you’re not working. Every day when I come to work, I have fun. Every day, the details of getting everything done work out, and I always enjoy the day.”
By Yujin Shin
Teri W. Odom is Board of Lady Managers of the Columbian Exposition Professor of Chemistry and also Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University.
She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry at Stanford University. While at Stanford, her interest in quantum mechanics lead her to pursue a PhD in Chemical Physics at Harvard University under Dr. Charles Lieber, one of the world’s leading scientists in nanoscience. She recalls that her graduate school days were some of the best in her life. She was able to singularly focus on science with few other serious obligations and was exposed to diverse topics in the group. These experiences made her look deeper into problems in nanoscience. She was offered an Assistant Professor position at Northwestern University while still a graduate student. She loves her work here.
Prof. Odom has won numerous awards including the Materials Research Society (MRS) Outstanding Young Investigator Award and she was selected as “one of the world’s top young innovators” from the MIT Technology Review. Recently, she has been named as Executive Editor at American Chemistry Society (ACS) Photonics, which is a new journal focusing on photonic and plasmonic materials. Prof. Odom humbly mentioned that she has been fortunate to be on a fast-track in her career and is thrilled to take new leadership roles since there is always something to learn. Also it is clear she loves training graduate students and contributing to society by doing good science.
Fortunately, she has not perceived challenges because of gender. However, she has known some female researchers who have had issues. Dr. Odom was the first assistant professor hired who was promoted to full professor in the department, despite the long history of strength in inorganic chemistry. She is pleased to see improvements these days. Rather than the gender, one challenge has been how people perceive her because of size. She has recalled many times where people thought she was a student prior to giving her talk until she actually started speaking. In such ways, all kinds of biases such as gender and physical appearance may be built in.
Besides working as a scientist, Prof. Odom enjoys spending her time investing in spiritual growth, reading fiction, and spending time with her two-year old son. During the interview, an inevitable question came to mind: “how she can manage work and family and whatever else (e.g. faith) which is important in her life?” Her answer was clear: it was challenging but doable, and certainly made easier when her life was in balance. Her definition of being balanced and healthy includes the full integration of physical, emotional, and spiritual states. And she strongly believes that healthier people will do a better job in their work.
Along with the balanced life, Prof. Odom also emphasizes importance of community as the key to success. She is certain that nobody does anything by themselves, and everybody needs people who support them with opportunities and recognition.