Oral history interview with Yolanda Sanchez

  • 2008-Jul-29
  • 2008-Jul-31

Yolanda Sanchez was born in El Paso, Texas, but grew up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. She was one of five children whose father was an architect, now a teacher, and a housewife. Sanchez spent a year in New Zealand, improving her English and beginning to establish her independence. Her interest in science began in high school, where she did well in math and chemistry, loved biology, and did some research on Achyla recurva. Her parents valued education, but their daughters (who were told they could not marry until they had finished a degree) were allowed to go to college only locally, so Sanchez chose University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and was awarded a Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) grant. She worked on tumor suppressor genes and became interested in cell cycle and DNA repair. She chose Ann Killary’s lab at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), moving with Killary’s lab to the University of Texas at Houston, where she worked on microcell-mediated chromosome transfer. She married another scientist during this time and stayed in the lab for another year while waiting for her husband to finish his degree. For a postdoc Sanchez went to Stephen Elledge’s lab at Baylor University to work on the cell cycle in yeast. She published three papers there, including a Science paper on Rad53 kinase, and found Chk1 in yeast and humans.

Sanchez and her husband, Craig Tomlinson, accepted positions at the University of Cincinnati. She received a good startup package and found congenial colleagues as well as the possibility of collaborators. She was able to bring with her what she had worked on in Elledge’s lab, but she still found the transition to being PI difficult in some ways, especially because of the intrusion of politics into her lab management and into publishing. In her lab she emphasized teamwork and toughness.

Next Sanchez moved to an associate professorship at Dartmouth College, where her husband became head of the genomics core. She spends less time in the lab but hopes to be able to spend more time there in the future. She believes that basic science is crucial for medicine and that National Institutes of Health allocates funding inappropriately against basic science.

Sanchez discusses her Pew Scholars application topic (DNA damage and repair) and scholarship, the money it afforded her, potential and realized collaborations, and the Pew meetings. Her lab receives annual income from a patent; she talks about that patent and patents in general; she believes that patents help protect innovation. Sanchez compares her experience of religion in science in both Mexico and the United States. She describes her experiences with education of laymen, including the politics often involved in that education. She discusses balancing home life with work life and, although her husband is very supportive, she advocates for government-mandated and government-provided child care. Sanchez concludes her interview with a call for ethics classes and a greater emphasis on ethics in the practice of science.

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