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Oral history interview with Judy Lieberman

  • 1997-Jan-29
  • 1997-Jan-31

Judy Lieberman, the second of three daughters, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but grew up in a New Jersey suburb of New York City. Her father worked for Maidenform Incorporated, and her mother was an elementary school teacher. The three girls had an intensely cultural and educational childhood and family life; they were expected to excel at school and to study science or mathematics or music or art in their spare time. Judy attended summer programs in science at Columbia University and physics at Cornell University. She loved to paint—she still paints—and also attended an art camp at Cornell University one summer. The family celebrated the Jewish holy days with family but were otherwise atheists. Until about tenth grade Judy wanted to be a labor historian, but an excellent biology teacher and the Cornell physics program turned her to science. Although she loved biology in high school, she thought perhaps physics would be more challenging and elegant, so Judy entered Harvard University intending to be a theoretical physicist. She found it an intellectually stimulating discipline, but a solitary one, and she was not sure she had made the right choice. Nevertheless, she decided to pursue a PhD in physics at Rockefeller University, where she studied with Bram Pais. During her second year as a graduate student she married Edward Greer, who had been her betrothed since her last year in college. She then spent three years at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University; from there she moved to Chicago to a job at the Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory in nearby Batavia, Illinois. Judy was not happy as a physicist and decided to become a doctor. She obtained her MD from a special joint program in Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, during which time she bore her first son. She did her internship at the New England School of Medicine and her residency at Tufts University School of Medicine and then accepted a postdoctoral position at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Cancer Research. It was during her residency that she bore her second son. After the postdoc she moved to hematology/oncology at Tufts University School of Medicine, where she held several positions until she moved back to Harvard's Center for Blood Research. Because it is difficult to do both science research and clinical practice well Judy has decided to devote her skills to science, specifically immunology, where she believes she can make a greater difference to more people. There she continues to seek an immunotherapy for AIDS as well as for other diseases. Although she says that finding the immunotherapy for AIDS has turned out to be much more difficult than she had originally thought, she does believe that there will be good therapy, if perhaps not a cure. In this oral history Judy discusses, in addition to her work, women in science; ethics; lab management; raising children; translational research; funding.

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