LYNNE E. MAQUAT, Ph.D.
J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics and of Oncology, School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Rochester
Director, University of Rochester Center for RNA Biology: From Genome to Therapeutics; Chair, University of Rochester Graduate Women in Science
2014 ATHENA Award® Recipient
1. What is the one personal quality that's been most important in your career and why?
It’s a mixture of personal qualities that I didn’t know I had as a young assistant professor. After obtaining a Ph.D. degree and doing post-doctoral work, I was on my own to make discoveries and become a successful scientist. The qualities that helped me most are:
• an open yet critical mind that knows the difference between what is fact and what is hypothesis;
• an understanding of how to design experiments that provide useful information;
• the ability to clearly communicate complicated ideas in writing and orally;
and, very importantly, perseverance.
• I learned all of this in the course of starting my own lab, which is like running a small business.
2. What’s the best career advice you ever received?
Start my lab small and hire each individual carefully. This allows for the creation of a culture in which lab members get along, have an outstanding work ethic, and want to excel. Research science is not a job, but a career that can have many twists and turns and lead to amazing discoveries.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I get great pleasure from exercising, doing crossword puzzles, and walking my dog. Each activity allows me to make mental space for new scientific ideas to take root and grow. It’s a kind of peripheral vision. I don’t sit down to solve a scientific problem but have the right amount of joy and openness to make connections. Solutions pop into my head, and it’s key to my thinking process. I also love to travel as well as eat wonderful food and drink good wine . . . but I view these as necessary forms of mental and physical sustenance rather than harbingers of guilt.
What was your most unexpected career turn?
Truth be told, I never envisioned running my own research lab. Successful female scientists were few and far between back then. I wasn’t sure I was capable. When my first marriage fell apart, I found myself struggling to pay the mortgage in a new city (not Rochester), which was very stressful. So, I started applying for research funding from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association. I secured multiple grants, proving to myself (and those who were wary of hiring me as an assistant professor) that I was meritorious of such an appointment. I tell all young people – especially females – to be sure that you can take good financial care of yourself and don’t underestimate your abilities.
What is the most fun part of your job?
While I get older every year, the graduate students and post-docs in my lab never age. I really enjoy working with young scientists-in-training, helping them mature and preparing them to start research careers of their own.