Q: Did you always know you wanted to teach college students?
A: I always wanted to teach. When I was an undergrad, I thought I wanted to teach high school chemistry. But I was also interested in science and understanding what’s happening when our bodies do us wrong. So, I ended up working in immunology and eventually cancer, which isn’t all that different. The immune system's kind of a jerk a lot of the time, and cancer, I think everybody would agree, is a jerk all the time. I got my Ph.D. and then did my post-doc in Seattle at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, but teaching was always in the back of my mind. I had to hide that, because at the time, the accepted pathway was to get your education and some experience and go run a research lab. So, I taught a night class for a while before I found my way to Puget Sound.
Q: Your research focuses on cell biology and the mechanism behind cancer. What drew you to that area of study?
A: In my lab, we work with fruit flies, which I never imagined I would do. I started out working as a technician in a lab that was looking for genetic mutations in people who were more susceptible to Neisseria, a family of bacteria that causes meningitis. It felt very important to be working with human subjects, but it turns out that you can’t control humans, which makes them hard to study. So, I moved into working with cells in tissue culture obtained from mice and humans, which included researching skin cancer. When I came to Seattle, I interviewed with someone who was doing research with fruit flies. At first, I scoffed at it, because a fruit fly is so simple compared to an organism like a human. But after a while, I came to realize how useful they are in understanding how cancer forms, because you can control every variable. You control the matings, you control the environment, you can take genes, add some, take some out, and change their sequence—and you can learn a lot that way.