Happy International Women’s Day! Each year we celebrate the accomplishments of women who have gone before us to pave the way for better wages and opportunities for equitable promotion. AWIS will be recognizing these trailblazers throughout the month of March with interviews and retrospectives drawn from our archives which record women’s contributions to the STEM enterprise and their impact on society. Their stories reflect the real challenges our members face every day in labs, classrooms, corporate boardrooms, and government offices around the country.
Our first post is excerpted from Cracking the Puzzle: An Interview with Carol Greider by Sydney Gary written for the AWIS Magazine Fall 2006, Volume 35, Number 4.
In 1984, Carol Greider, then a first-year graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, chose a research project because, as she puts it, “It seemed like a fun puzzle to crack.” Twenty-two years later,Greider was one of three scientists recognized for their work in cracking this puzzle by receiving the 2006 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, one of the highest honors a scientist can receive.
The puzzle that intrigued Greider was how the structures at the end of chromosomes, called telomeres, are formed and maintained. Working in the laboratory of Elizabeth Blackburn, Greider explored the hypothesis that a specific enzyme was responsible for keeping telomeres intact. Using extracts from the pond ciliate Tetrahymena, it only took her nine months to find evidence that the hypothesis was correct, there was an enzyme at work making telomeres. In December 1985, Greider and Blackburn published their paper describing the work and introducing telomerase to the world.
Choices and Opportunities
Greider identified two critical moments during her early career as a young scientist that contributed to her success. The first happened when she was interviewing for graduate school and first met Blackburn. The combination of Blackburn’s personality and approach to science as well as the research was what attracted Greider. “As soon as I interviewed with her, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” remembers Greider. Another critical moment came in 1987 when Greider was looking for postdoctoral opportunities. A member of her thesis committee recommended she apply to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for a postdoctoral fellowship. She did apply, and went to the prestigious research institution on Long Island to give a job talk, but she didn’t get the fellowship. Instead, she was offered something much better – the position of Cold Spring Harbor fellow, which provides promising young researchers with their own laboratory space and financial support.
“This was a major opportunity,” Greider says. She took advantage of the opportunity by continuing her studies on telomerase, working to clone one of the genes responsible for its activity. She published this work in 1989, continuing to establish herself and this emerging field of research as significant players in cellular and molecular biology. She transitioned to a faculty position at Cold Spring Harbor sooner then expected, brought about by the request of a student who wanted to join her lab. In order for her to take the student on, she needed her own NIH grant. So, she promptly applied for a grant and obtained it, resulting in a promotion to Assistant Investigator and her first graduate student in 1990.
Carol Greider won The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009 together with colleagues Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Jack W. Szostak.
To read the entire article, visit the AWIS Magazine archives at http://www.awis.org.