00:00:00DOMUSH: Today is 27 August. I'm Hilary Domush, and I'm here with Dr. Barbara
Panning at UCSF [University of California, San Francisco]. Did I say your last
PANNING: That's correct.
DOMUSH: Okay. Now, I read in a UCSF publication that you were born in
Switzerland. Is that correct? Did you also grow up there?
PANNING: My family stayed there until I was three and then we moved to Canada.
But I went back to Switzerland every summer while I was growing up, so I grew up
in both countries.
DOMUSH: Did you have family that you were going back to in Switzerland?
PANNING: Visiting my grandparents in the Alps. So they, they ran a small hotel
and it was Heidi-esque.
DOMUSH: Did you have siblings as well that were traveling back and forth with you?
PANNING: So, [it is] my brother and sister and I. I was ten years old the first
time my parents put us on an airplane by ourselves, I had a six-year old sister
and an eight-year old brother, and we got picked up at the other end in
Switzerland. We did change in Montreal, [Canada], because it was Toronto,
00:01:00[Canada] to Montreal to change in Montreal by ourselves. A little tag around my
neck that said, "My name is Barbara. I speak English and German. Please make
sure I get on this flight."
DOMUSH: It went okay. You got on the correct flight?
PANNING: We got on the correct flight, yeah. My parents worried a bit because a
ten-year-old, a six-year-old, and an eight-year-old traveling by themselves
internationally was a little scary, but there was no problem. We did just fine.
And then after, that, we did just fine every year on our own.
DOMUSH: So, you were speaking German when you were in Switzerland?
PANNING: German. They talk Deutsch-Romansh, which is the fourth national
language and it's only spoken by people high up in the Alps and it's fairly rare.
DOMUSH: Did you speak that in Canada as well?
PANNING: Mainly English in Canada. My parents . . . my father needed to learn
English when we arrived in Canada, so we started speaking English around the home.
00:02:00DOMUSH: Did you move to Canada because of a work situation?
PANNING: Yeah, my mother's parents hated my dad and my dad's parents didn't like
my mother, so they decided to move as far away as they possibly could.
[laughter] I'm exaggerating. There were other [issues]. The cost of living in
Switzerland was very high, and it was clear my parents would never be able to
own a home with just one working parent. We had one set of relatives in Canada
that told us the situation, and told them the situation was different in Canada,
so they decided to move to Canada.
DOMUSH: How was it when you were in Canada? You said you moved when you were
very young, so the transition must not have been [too difficult].
PANNING: Yeah. I was three. It wasn't, it wasn't. I don't remember being
traumatized by it or upset by it or anything like that. And we grew up in
suburban Toronto and had a house. It was a nice neighborhood. There were lots of
. . . it was a recently built subdivision. Every other family in the
00:03:00neighborhood had children our ages. You know, after school my parents would just
open the door and let us go out and play and pick us up, call for us a couple
hours later knowing that there was someone watching us, no matter where we were,
we were going to be close by, some parent would be watching us. So, it was a
pretty idyllic childhood. I now have a six-year old and a three-year old, and
it's a different world. I have to arrange play dates.
DOMUSH: So, when you were after school kind of running around with your siblings
and all these kids in the neighborhood . . . some of the other Pew Scholars
[Program in the Biomedical Sciences] that I've talked to have talked about being
very interested in the outdoors and that being kind of their first exposure to
science. Was that your experience?
PANNING: I have a very clear recollection of my friend, Ken Ball's fifth
birthday party. And in the goodie bag that they took home . . . so, he was five.
I was five. In the goodie bag we were given to take home and--maybe he was
00:04:00six--we were given these little puzzle cubes. So, you moved the little squares
inside a big square with one square missing and you had to move the squares
around to recreate a picture or a number sequence. And I remember I was
fascinated by it. I sat down and I did it. I would do it over and over again.
And that was sort of the first time that it hit me that I really liked figuring
things out. I liked these challenges, and I liked figuring these things out. I
wanted more of those, and I wanted puzzles and stuff like that, so that was
one-half of it.
And then the other half of it is I remember being teased in public school. I was
the nature nut. Our neighborhood was built close to farmers' fields and a creek
bed that had a forest all around it, and some friends and I would go into the
forest during the summer. That would be, we'd disappear in the morning and
wander around and come out for lunch and go back in and disappear the afternoon.
00:05:00We'd explore. And I, yeah, I'd bring stuff home. And I don't know how many frogs
my mother had to get me to bring back--tadpoles and frogs and things that were
glittery and beautiful but hatched into millions of little worms.
DOMUSH: Were your siblings also interested in bringing these nature things back home?
PANNING: Not really. My brother has a learning disability and my sister was just
a completely different person. She was a ballerina-artist kind of person. And
I'm sure my parents inadvertently or purposefully directed us in different ways.
DOMUSH: So were your parents encouraging of you being outside--not necessarily
bringing these things back home.
PANNING: I think they were. Yeah. I don't ever recall my parents trying to guide
me in anything. In high school you choose your classes. I always chose my own
courses. I was never--I never had a curfew, I think because I never needed one
00:06:00because I had common sense to come home at particular times. So I don't, there
wasn't much guidance sort of in any aspect from my parents. They just let us be
who we wanted to be and do what we wanted to do. They tried with my brother to
give more guidance because of his learning disability, and I don't think that
worked in the end anyway, but . . .
DOMUSH: So, once you were kind of moving along in school and choosing your own
courses in high school, were the science courses the ones that were more
interesting or were there other subjects that were?
PANNING: The science courses were the ones I gravitated towards. They were the
most interesting. I took every science course I could. There were two tracks--an
advanced track, and a non-advanced track. So, I took all the maths, all the
sciences, lots of languages. I graduated with way more credits in the fast
track--upper courses. In fact, the only thing I didn't get was a couple of arts
courses and phys-ed. So, it wasn't--you know, when you could have taken four
00:07:00courses, I took eight. [laughter] It's just because I was interested, and I
wanted to learn it all and, it was worth it to me.
DOMUSH: Okay. So now, the whole time you're going through high school and things
like that are you continuing to go back to Switzerland in the summers?
PANNING: I was going back to Switzerland in the summers, yes, throughout high
school until my last year of high school when I stayed and got a job in downtown
Toronto [--] being a file clerk for an insurance company. And what I learned
then was that I hate to commute and that I never want to be a file clerk.
DOMUSH: Good things to learn.
PANNING: Yes. And I learnt them young.
DOMUSH: So, now from having read other Scholars' [oral] histories and spoken
with a couple of people, one of whom is also a Canadian or grew up in Canada, I
know that applying to college is very different than in the United States and
most people [in Canada] stay close to home. So, was McMaster University
[Hamilton, Ontario, Canada] close to your home and that's where you went.
00:08:00PANNING: It was close to home, and at this point my sister was having some kind
of recurrent kidney problems, and we just didn't know what the cause was, what
was happening. It had gotten to the point where I was typed and I was a match
for her. So, I just wanted to be [close] and McMaster University happened to
have a medical center where they were doing a lot of that. So, I wanted to stay
close to home to be there just in case something, which was why I chose to do
graduate school at McMaster University, as well. As well as, it had a top-tier
cancer research group, you know, the best in Canada, and that was absolutely
wonderful, as well.
DOMUSH: How far was it from home?
PANNING: Thirty kilometers, quite close to home.
DOMUSH: Okay. Did you live at home?
PANNING: So, I had to put myself through college. The first two years I had to
live at home because I just couldn't make enough money to pay tuition and for
rent someplace. I saved money so I was able to live away from home for the last
00:09:00two years of college. My parents are old-school Europeans and all their money
was saved for my brother's education, so two girls and my brother, so there was
no money for my education. I had to do it myself. And then my brother eventually
didn't go to college. So, my sister got to--
DOMUSH: When you'd already put yourself through college at that point.
PANNING: I'd already put myself through college. [laughter] There wasn't
anything much they could do for me. And by that point, I was in graduate school
and I was getting paid. And they didn't--I mean, they didn't object to the
point. They didn't understand why I wasn't getting married and having children.
I just seemed to be staying in school forever. And every visit home all through
graduate school and the postdoctoral years was, "When are you going to get a
real job?" I mean, this was the recurring theme. They didn't understand it. They
just didn't understand it, didn't know why I was doing it, didn't get the point
00:10:00of it. And they wouldn't stop me, and if I needed help--financial help or
something like that--they were certainly happy enough to provide it, but they
just couldn't see why I was doing this. There was no purpose to it.
DOMUSH: Did they not understand what it was about science or just not understand
why school was taking [so long]?
PANNING: They couldn't understand why school was taking so long and then after I
graduated with a PhD, I had to go on and do, it still wasn't done.
DOMUSH: More school.
PANNING: I still had to go into more school. And when I was going to start my
real life like the important things like bringing home grandchildren, the things
that mattered more to them I think. [laughter]
DOMUSH: Okay. So, when you started at McMaster you're commuting from home. And
were there other people in your neighborhood that were also going to McMaster?
PANNING: A group of people that I graduated with all, and that were brothers and
sisters that all ended up going to McMaster. So, it was a group of about ten of
00:11:00us that all ended up going there. So, we had rotating [carpool], the ten of us
and three cars. It was like that. And we worked out a schedule to get us back
DOMUSH: So, how--I'm not very familiar with the university system there, but do
you start taking--did you have to pick a major when you applied . . . ?
PANNING: Right, no, so you started at general [. . .] program where you choose
first year science programs, and one non-science elective. And then after that
you begin to focus in on what you wanted to do. I was already pretty clear I
wanted to do something biology- or chemistry-related going into high school.
DOMUSH: Oh, already going into high school you knew that?
PANNING: Sorry, going into college. I already knew in high school. In high
school it had become very clear that I liked . . . we had one very talented
00:12:00teacher who taught some basic molecular biology at the high school--genetics and
molecular biology. I loved it, and that's what I wanted to do. I think in my
high school yearbook I had future career it was genetic engineer. So, I knew
already then that I wanted to do the biology track. I took a basic first-year
sciences mix, and then I think as my non-science elective I took anthropology. I
ended up getting a double degree in anthropology and biology. There's a
considerable overlap in physical anthropology. We use a lot of biological tools.
DOMUSH: Had you had any exposure to anthropology before going in to university?
PANNING: No, other than reading, you know, Heinrich Schliemann [about the
ancient city of] Troy and sort of liking the idea of archeology. No, not really.
The archeology courses involved senior thesis project in a dig in the far north
00:13:00[of] Ontario, close to the Arctic Circle. In that dig I learned I don't think
pottery is that interesting. [laughter] Digging up little shards of pottery in
the freezing cold. So, it wasn't that cold. I mean it was warm enough that we
could do the dig, but it got really cold at night. I learned this wasn't for me.
So that was when I pretty quickly switched over to the molecular biology. And I
was getting that, so in the first year I took general course. The second year
you could try taking mainly biology courses and chemistry courses., and by third
and fourth year you're in--even within biology you're tracked either in ecology
or molecular biology. And I was clearly going, that was what I was interested
in. And I never did anything with some plan in the future of getting a PhD or
becoming a professor; I did it all because I thought it was the most interesting
thing to do. So, you graduate with a biology degree. In fourth year, you have a
00:14:00chance to do projects, and it was very clear to me that I really liked doing the
science. And there were some courses that introduced me to some things that I
thought I would really enjoy doing. So, I decided to do a PhD and got into the
PhD program and just kept going. Again, every step because I found something
interesting that I really wanted to do, not because I had some dream I was following.
DOMUSH: So, what were the classes like that kept you so interested that really
helped you kind of realize, you know, even if I don't have a plan per se that
this is something I want to stick with?
PANNING: Developmental biology courses, cell biology, molecular biology . . .
basically all the kind of stuff that I am continuing to do today, where we'd be
introduced to not only having a problem . . . okay, I'll just provide an
00:15:00example. DNA replication. So, a really good teacher broke it down and said you
know the DNA's got to copy itself. Well, these are the kind of things it's got
to do, including you know twist and writhe and doing it faithfully. So, what
intrigued me was not only the process of figuring out all, you know, actually
doing the experiments and the elegant experiments that were done to figure out
how you get rid of twist and writhe and what do you replicate, but also,
understanding that these are the problems that these biological machines face.
So there were many levels that I just found really intriguing. Identifying the
problem, you know, really figuring out what was interesting about it, how could
you solve that problem? I think in high school I was also in "The Thinkable,"
which I enjoyed a lot too, which was this problem-solving Olympics that I
thought was great. And none of the problems were scientific. They were all sort
of socioeconomic problems, but it was--
00:16:00DOMUSH: Still problem solving. So, when you were taking these really interesting
courses and really getting into this idea of biological problem solving, was
there also a lab component?
PANNING: There was a lab component as well, and I did well in that, so that was,
I knew that that wouldn't be a problem. I enjoyed it.
DOMUSH: Did you do any additional laboratory work outside of the laboratory courses?
PANNING: Right, so there was in the second and third year, there were laboratory
courses. And in fourth year, you could join the lab and do a project.
DOMUSH: Okay. So, what, how did you go about joining a lab or was it . . . since
it was part of the program was it kind of picked for you?
PANNING: No . . . it was a, I think it was a course if I remember correctly. You
interviewed. You asked around, found a lab that had room for you and then you
worked a few hours a day in the lab and wrote a senior thesis on the work in the lab.
DOMUSH: So, what did you work on?
PANNING: I worked with a woman named [Darrell J. Tomkins] . . . last name
00:17:00escapes me right now. I could Pub-Med it and get it for you. She was studying
Roberts syndrome, which is a syndrome--a human growth syndrome. So, the babies
were born small and never really grew particularly--didn't grow normally--and in
the end died prematurely with all sorts of growth defects. It was autosomal
recessive, and the interesting thing from Darrell's perspective . . . so, she
was a cytogeneticist [and] there was this very striking genetic abnormality of
the chromosomes where they clearly weren't condensed. Part of the chromosomes
were not properly condensed . . . blocks of heterochromatin which are not only
really, really condensed were not condensed and the chromosomes had a very
abnormal morphology. And the slow growth of the individuals was also mimicked by
00:18:00really slow growth of the cells in culture. So, the kind of research that was
done in that lab was growing a wild type, and mutant cells, fibroblast with
different drugs to see how it affected the growth of the chromosomes. In the
end, I didn't think the research was all that interesting because it was just
throwing drugs at some cells and it wasn't all that exciting. But in that year,
I was introduced to stuff that I thought was really exciting. And that was what
I set out to do my PhD on.
DOMUSH: So, how did that laboratory experience compare to the laboratory
experiences you'd had in the courses?
PANNING: How did they compare?
DOMUSH: Were they . . . were there techniques that you learned in the courses
that you could now use in the research?
PANNING: No. I had to learn all sorts of new stuff that I had never done before
in that laboratory experience. The courses actually turned out to be . . . the
developmental biology was removing frog's eyes from their eye sockets to their
00:19:00sides where the optical lobe was before it formed and getting a frog's eye to
develop in the side. The molecular biology and cell biology courses were more
pouring gels and separating proteins and none of that was, didn't do any of that
in this lab. That was the kind of stuff, so I didn't . . . . I enjoyed the
molecular or I enjoyed the labs and I did really well in the labs, and I got all
the techniques to work, whereas the rest of the class was usually not doing so
well. So that was, I knew I had the hands for it, and I could follow the
instructions, and I could figure this stuff out. But I had to learn a whole new
skill set for my fourth-year project lab, and then a whole new skill set when I
started graduate school.
DOMUSH: So, in the fourth year project lab were you learning from . . . did that
lab have graduate students?
PANNING: That lab had graduate students and postdocs, and I was learning
predominantly from a graduate student.
DOMUSH: Okay. And was there something . . . was it just that, you know, you
00:20:00really liked research and just kept being really interested in the different
aspects of biology, or was there something also appealing about--was there a
camaraderie in her research group that was appealing in any way?
PANNING: I guess so. I don't . . . the people were real nice. They weren't
particularly driven. They weren't highly motivated by . . . you know, that
research experience was told me that that wasn't the lab I wanted to be in and
that wasn't the kind of research I wanted to be doing. But I found . . . . I
talked to other people in different labs and in the end it was the guy whose
course I had taken. He really blew me away with how he explained things, the
kind of problems he was trying to solve in his lab, and that's where I went for
graduate school, and it was wonderful.
There in the graduate lab it was a lot of grad students and postdocs and a lot
00:21:00of camaraderie; and it was the cancer research group that was funded by the
Canadian NCI [National Cancer Institute of Canada] at the time. There were eight
lab heads in a group and each one had a lab of five or six people, and we were
all together, so there was like this large group that worked, all of us working
on DNA tumor viruses. So, it was a commonality I guess-- common tools and skill
sets--and the problems were all kind of related, even if we were working on
different viruses, the same ideas were coming up. So, it was wonderful. It was
absolutely fantastic. I loved it. And it was a great place for training. My PhD
advisor really wanted to, he challenged us. He would come in and talk about
things he'd read that he thought were interesting, and there was always some
lively discussion going on, and it was wonderful.
DOMUSH: And now your PhD advisor was James [R.] Smiley.
00:22:00DOMUSH: So, the course that you took, okay, is that was when you first started
the graduate program?
PANNING: No, the course that I took, so graduate programs are different in
Canada. In Canada, you have to have organized your graduate supervisor before
you even start graduate school, so I applied to the graduate program with the
intention of going to his lab. And once I got there I could have switched labs,
but it's very different from what is done in the States where you come in. You
do a year of coursework, and then you decide on a lab. You do some rotations and
decide on a lab. There you have to be accepted into a lab before you can get
into the program.
DOMUSH: So, had you taken his class then as an undergraduate?
PANNING: I had taken his class as an undergraduate, and I'd known people who had
done projects, their fourth-year projects in his lab and really liked him. And I
think he got . . . the year I started graduate school three other people went to
his lab. [. . .] He's a wonderful guy. And then you take coursework. So, we
00:23:00still do coursework. We just, it was two years of coursework while you're doing
graduate school and teaching--in my case in the nursing school and in the
medical school. So, for three hours a day, twice a week I was teaching. It was a
pretty demanding graduate program. A lot of teaching . . .
DOMUSH: What course were you teaching?
PANNING: Usually physiology or microbiology, immunology for nurses, so it
involved two three-hour sessions, two days a week. And it was a semester system,
two or three semesters. So I was gone. And then I had to prepare for it. I
didn't know about physiology, so I needed to really bone up on that. And then I
was taking my own course load which was also, probably two three-hour sessions a
week and then working in the lab. Then the coursework was for two years, the
graduate work. The coursework was for two years. The teaching was for all six
00:24:00years of graduate school. Here at UCSF the students teach one semester.
DOMUSH: Oh, wow.
PANNING: Yeah, I did teaching for all . . . that teaching load for all six years
of graduate school. After two years of graduate school, you do a qualifying exam
that lets [you] transfer to a PhD program. And when you're two years into your
PhD program you do your comprehensive exams. And your comprehensive exams
involved three fifteen-page essays and one on a medical science project, one on
a cell biology project and one on a molecular biology project. Then you take
three months off and write the three essays and then have a day-long oral exam
with committee members that you have chosen and worked with them writing the
essays. The year after, the class after mine, it was cut down to two exams. And
two years after that it was cut down to one exam. [laughter] And I think two
years before I had started they had gotten rid of [the] language. And you used
00:25:00to have to also demonstrate proficiency in another language.
DOMUSH: Oh, wow. Do you think they were cutting things down because professors
were tired of grading?
PANNING: I think they were cutting things down because it was just interfering
with the research. So, the main thing you were supposed to be doing is learning
how to do research, and you're spending all this time teaching and in courses. I
mean effectively my PhD supervisor was paying me for two years when I have to
admit I didn't get a hell of a lot done because there was just so much
coursework and the teaching load was high. And then in the third year you
finally begin to accomplish something because you at least have gotten rid of
the coursework, and you're a little more familiar with the teaching. If you get
the same course a few years in a row it wasn't quite so onerous by the third
time you'd done it.
DOMUSH: So, tell me a little bit about the project that you worked on, the
research project that you worked on in the lab.
PANNING: Okay. So, Jim studied herpes viruses, and herpes viruses fell under the
00:26:00mantle of DNA tumor viruses, and they have a very specific gene expression
program. He was interested in how that worked. So, basically, the virus infects
the cell and then the first group of genes turn on and they produce gene
products that then turn on a second group of genes. And that second group of
genes are basically the genes that are necessary for replication of the virus.
And then amongst those genes there's replication genes or things that allow the
virus to replicate its DNA, copy itself, and then factors that turn on the third
group of genes. They're a group of genes that package the virus and allow it to
egress. And the very first thing that it needs to do when it gets in before it
can start this domino effect is strip the host machinery that's used for
00:27:00transcription away from the host and the machinery that's used for translation
away from the host transcripts and host DNA and get it off the virus. And it
packaged [some] proteins right into the cell, right into the virus that move
into the cell with the virus that let it do that. And we were trying to
understand how those proteins worked.
DOMUSH: When you applied to graduate school and you applied to work in his lab
was this a project that you knew you'd be working on or that you proposed in
some way as fitting with what he was already doing?
PANNING: So, when you apply . . . right, I knew the general area of what was
going on in his lab. He definitely said I think this would be a good project to
start with. And then it evolved into something else. So, by the end we were
trying to figure out what these viral proteins were doing. And the project
evolved into my understanding how the viral--or working on trying to understand
00:28:00how the viral proteins affected the host, not only the, not only stripped things
like polymerase, right, that takes the RNA away from the host, but actually
factored the way the host DNA was packaged. So, it was, it was really a great
learning experience because I came in with some guidance because I just didn't
know the field. I didn't know it well enough to have come up with a reasonable
project on my own. I hadn't even working, been working on it for my fourth-year
project. Someone in the lab had been working on it, and he was a bit further
ahead, but it gave me the opportunity to learn and evolve and figure out what I
wanted to do in this, in that area. And then, having sort of been bitten by the
understanding how DNA is organized and packaged and how that affects how genes
are turned on and off, I decided that's what I wanted to do for graduate
school--oh sorry, for postdoc. And so, I looked around for a postdoc that would
let me do that.
00:29:00DOMUSH: So, in the lab as your research is evolving, your understanding and
excitement about the project [are evolving], what was the interaction like
between you and Jim? Was he the type of boss that was kind of constantly looking
over your shoulder.
PANNING: No, you were, I worked very independently. He wasn't a micromanager. He
didn't tell me what to do. Especially [with] the initial project that he wanted
done there he was [. . .] I could always go to him for advice, but that was his
project. But in doing that initial project, I made some interesting
observations, and he would say well, that's really cool. You could follow up on
that if you want, go ahead. And I would. And it was more . . . his guidance was
more like, well, that's an interesting problem. Why don't you try and figure
00:30:00that out or sort of suggestions along those lines without any, these are the
experiments you need to do this. So, I was left on my own to figure out how to
do it, gather the tools, learn the new techniques. It was great.
DOMUSH: Was there any competition within the lab? Were other people working on
the same project?
PANNING: There were other people [who] were working on the same project. There
was no competition in the lab, and I had no competition in the world because no
one had made this observation, okay. So, I wasn't particularly worried. And I
still remember going to my very first scientific meeting which was the
Thirteenth International Congress in Herpes Virology in Irvine, California, with
Jim and most of the other people in the lab, and Jim presenting all my new
observations as part of a talk. And then I had poster at the meeting. And this
00:31:00person who was the . . . had a horrible reputation in the field of . . . . I
didn't know it at the time but, it turns out after the fact because I was young
and naïve and knew nothing about anyone in the field, personally, right--had a
horrible reputation of quickly and dirtily going after other people's
experiments if he thought they were interesting. So, he hung out at my poster
and scooped me. Published it within and I don't think there's anyone who could
have had the observation that I had. And I don't think, I really to this day
think that he rushed it out. First of all he got it wrong. It was incorrect. And
secondly, it was just, it just was not pretty, I mean it wasn't a good job. And
he didn't publish in a great journal, but he rushed it out. So, it made it
harder for me to publish my story that I had to correct [and] do like a million
more controls and figure, and rebut, point out how wrong he was, wrong to the
00:32:00point where he identified this protein of the virus being necessary for this
function. And the virus he used wasn't even a mutant in that protein. And that
was well known, you know. So, it was an example of poor, shoddy, refereeing for
his initial manuscript, like his and then my having to deal with it all. So, I
learnt some, I certainly learnt some stuff from that.
DOMUSH: So, was this the first paper that you were going to write then?
PANNING: It was the--so, I already had written the paper, my first paper.
And this was sort of this was the stuff that was mine
that the observations I had made that I was going to follow up on.
DOMUSH: So, did you . . . you said you had to do a rebuttal. Was that just in
response to kind of his publication or to the reviews that you got?
PANNING: Well, so basically, when I was ready to put my story together, I had to
take into account his was already there and mine said something completely
00:33:00different. So, in writing mine I had to basically make it clear that our results
were different, why I thought they were different, and why I thought mine was
interesting enough to publish given that . . .
DOMUSH: Given that he had published already.
PANNING: Yeah, has published already. So, I learnt some things about . . . it's
good to know the community. Yeah. I learnt some stuff that meeting, that I hope
has stayed with me. [laughter] I don't know if it always has, but I hope it
stayed with me.
DOMUSH: But you were able to publish that.
PANNING: And I was able to publish in the end. In the end because he was so
wrong, I mean, the primary observation was . . . so, we noticed that the virus
does this. And then we tried to identify the protein in the virus that's
responsible for the activity. So, I had presented, or Jim had presented at the
meeting, that the virus does this. So, everyone at the meeting already knew that
00:34:00Jim's lab had done it. And it's a big meeting and the entire community was
there, so most people would . . . anyone who needed to know would. [. . .] But
then he tried all these different mutants and identified one particular protein
that was doing it. But he was wrong. So, I was able to publish it and say this
is the one that does do it. So, it was okay. I mean, I learnt that yeah, and I
learnt that there's crappy science because, I mean, he didn't do a particularly
good job. He didn't control things. And I learnt that people will step on you to
get where they want to go, and that there are people like that out there and
hopefully to identify them and stay away from them. It can be hard to identify
them. If you're relying on word of mouth, when you're setting up a
collaboration, you know, you can't . . . and I actually did get burnt quite
badly early in my career by someone who turned out to be really quite horrible.
00:35:00But, yeah, for the most part . . .
DOMUSH: When this other group came out with this publication, did Jim say
anything like, "Oh, that's why he was hanging around your poster so long"? [laughter]
PANNING: Jim was furious. But then he was, he said, "You know, I'm not surprised
that this guy would do that. He is that kind of a guy. And I should maybe have
not presented your unpublished results." So, Jim presented part of it as part of
his talk in a keynote address at the meeting, and then there was the poster.
DOMUSH: Did he know . . . he knew though that you were presenting the poster.
PANNING: He knew that it was going to be in the poster, yeah. He had discussed
it what would go on the poster. So, yeah, but it wasn't devastating. It wasn't
awful. Jim was really supportive. When I was in graduate school I was blissfully
00:36:00unaware of publish or perish. Or even that it mattered what journal we published
in. I was just oblivious to all that. All I was working on was trying to get
these experiments done and solve this problem, and I just really focused on
that. And it didn't occur to me that any of this would have any impact on your
career somewhere down the line. All I wanted to do was get this step done, and
in the end I did quite well at graduate school. In Canada in this particular
area, the best you can publish in usually is Journal of Virology, and Molecular
Cellular Biology, and stuff like that. And that's where I published. And I did
fine. And I got lots of papers in graduate school.
DOMUSH: Now where were you able to publish this paper?
PANNING: This stuff, I think it went to a journal in general virology. I
actually can't remember, probably the Journal of General Virology, which is one
of the lower tier, not the top-tier virology journal.
DOMUSH: Okay. But it did still get published?
PANNING: But, it did still get published. Yeah. I don't know if I could have
00:37:00gotten it published if this guy had been right, in which . . . but I got it
published. And when this guy's came out, I rapidly shifted focus to basically
this unusual change in the way the cell responded to the virus. It turned out
that every DNA tumor virus did it, so I jumped onto a different tumor virus that
I was able to really figure out what was going on pretty quickly there.
DOMUSH: So you moved away from herpes?
PANNING: So, I moved away from herpes. I still finished up the herpes project,
but my focus kind of switched away from herpes to this adenovirus where these
other oncogenic proteins were doing the same thing that herpes virus proteins
were doing. So, it was related, but it was a different system that I could use
to figure it out and it was different enough that I was able to publish it
without having to worry about this other guy's work. And then sort of the herpes
stuff wasn't high priority, so I think it was even two years after his paper
00:38:00came out that we got out. So, it just wasn't my number one priority at that point.
DOMUSH: Was switching viruses difficult? I mean is that, are the techniques from
virus to virus, at least within tumor viruses, [similar]?
PANNING: Bit different, a little bit. So, if you were to ask, what do I think
part of what makes a good scientist? It's a fearlessness about technique. I want
to understand this problem, so I'm going to figure out what I need to do it.
And, you know, if it had been a lethal virus, I would have figured out how to
work with it so that I could solve the problem or probably I would have decided
maybe that wasn't worth it. [laughter] You just figure it out. You read. You
talk to people who have done similar things. You figure it all out, so . . .
DOMUSH: Okay. So, how, at what point in graduate school did you decide "I think
I'm ready to move on"? Or, did Jim come and say to you, you know, you're getting
ready to move on now?
PANNING: Jim certainly didn't tell me. Other people in my graduate committee
00:39:00told me I was ready to move on. I think PhD supervisors very rarely tell their
students they need to move on because they're really productive and they don't
particularly want to see them go. [laughter] So Jim certainly didn't fight it
when I said it's time. I think I had this realization when Jim and I had a
discussion about how we could interpret a particular experiment, and I turned
out to be right. And it was then that I realized that I may not be as smart as
he is because he's like the smartest person I know in the whole wide world, he's
just so incredible, but I'm smart enough that I'll get by, and that I know more
about this particular area than he does. And that makes sense. He's juggling ten
projects in the lab and I've just got my own little project, so that's when I
realized okay, I can handle one thing; maybe I can do three things, and it's
time to move on.
DOMUSH: Okay. So, you said that you had stayed at McMaster for both undergrad
00:40:00and graduate school because your sister was having a recurring kidney problem.
But you moved away?
PANNING: Right. So, that was resolved. So, her kidney problem--they figured out
what it was. There was no reason to hang around anymore.
DOMUSH: And you didn't have to do anything with being a match?
PANNING: I didn't have to. In the end it didn't matter. It didn't. Correct.
DOMUSH: So, then how did you decide . . . did you apply to postdoctoral groups
in Canada and in the United States?
PANNING: No. So, the advice I had gotten from the people at McMaster University
was go to the States, or Europe, and then it'll be easier for you to get a job
back in Canada, so I decided I was going to use my postdoc application thing as
a chance to do a world tour. So I decided this is my opportunity to go live
someplace different anyway, so I chose labs that were doing work that I was
really interested in but that were in different parts of the world. So, I went
to London, [England] and I interviewed in London and Cambridge, [England]. I
00:41:00interviewed in San Diego, [California] and LA [Los Angeles, California] and
Boston, [Massachusetts]. In fact, I had six interviews and seven postdoc offers
because when I was flying back from Boston to Hamilton, [Canada] after my
interview at Boston with Rudolf [Jaenisch]. And I knew I was late getting to the
airport. I knew I was going to be late and I was sitting on the "T" and I didn't
know what time it was because I never wear a watch, and I wanted to know if I
even had a chance of making my flight, so I looked around, and there was this
guy sitting two seats down with a white cooler, you know, [marked] "biohazard,"
that, you know, very, very clear. So I went and sat down beside him, and I said,
"You're a scientist. I can trust you. Can you please tell the time?" And he
looks at me and goes, "How did you know I'm a scientist?" [laughter] And just
like, and we're laughing. So, it turns out he was Nathaniel Heintz [Pew Scholar
00:42:00class of 1985], and he was at Rockefeller [University] and offered me a postdoc
by the time we got to the airport. So that was pretty good.
DOMUSH: I don't think most people in the "T" choose to go sit next to the person
carrying a "biohazard" box.
PANNING: Maybe. In Boston it's different because there's just so many
[scientists]. I remember it was a pretty exciting place to be because I could be
sitting on the "T" listening in on conversations and you could find out what's
going on in other labs just by listening to what was going on. It was pretty
interesting that way.
DOMUSH: So, what made you choose then to go to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of
Technology] and go to Boston as opposed to San Diego, or LA, or London, and Cambridge?
PANNING: I liked the research the best. The problem intrigued me the most in the
end, yeah. I think that was pretty much it. And I really liked it the best. The
other labs were great. There was nothing wrong with them, but I really liked
what was going on in Rudolf's lab at the time, the best. They were doing--you
00:43:00know, knockout mice were just coming in to be and Rudolf was really involved in
sort of epigenetics which I found most interesting--understanding how DNA is
packaged and how the packaging of the DNA affects its expression. The problem he
was beginning to work on his lab at the time that I arrived was
X-inactivation--the silencing of one chromosome. I just thought the whole thing
was really fascinating, and that's where I decided to go.
DOMUSH: Was there anything . . . . I mean as you just said, you know, you're on
the "T" and you're running into people carrying biohazard boxes that are very
clearly scientists and overhearing these other scientific discussions. I mean,
did that play into the decision at all that Boston has this . . . ?
PANNING: I knew that there was a lot there. I'd also been getting advice from
people [. . .] at McMaster who had been in different parts of the world. And so,
I knew that Boston had this vital science environment and it was, obviously my
00:44:00first impression was--are you familiar with Boston?
DOMUSH: A little bit.
PANNING: A little bit, okay. So, my first . . . . I arrived the night before my
interview and I took the "T" to Central Square, which was not the nicest
environment. This is a person coming from Canada. The streets are clean. It's
safe. And I come up in Central Square and the first thing I hear is, "He's got a
gun. Duck." [laughter] But I, you know managed to figure out to get to the bus
that I needed to get to my hotel or walk to the hotel which was like a mile walk
from Central Square. But then I checked into my hotel and I was right, I was
close to, the hotel turned out to be relatively close to Harvard Square. I
walked to Harvard Square and it was just an exciting city. It was clear it was
an exciting city and would be fun to live in and, yeah. In the end, I lived in
00:45:00Central Square and I wasn't scared by it at all. [laughter] But, that first day
was certainly, but it was a wonderful, young, exciting place to be.
DOMUSH: I'm not familiar at all with Hamilton, Ontario. How big is that? I know
how big Boston is and so I can kind of picture what it was like, but what was
that transition like?
PANNING: I can't, it was intimidating moving to . . . moving by myself to a new
city, but I don't remember being intimidated by the size or anything like that.
Just the thought of--I always lived close to home. I'd always had groups of
people that I knew embarking sort of on the next stage. So, the people from high
school went to the same university, even though we took completely different
courses. A group of people in my fourth year class stayed on and did graduate
00:46:00school even if we ended up in different labs. So, there was always other people
experiencing the same thing, that I knew. And, no one from my graduate class
went to Boston for a postdoc, I was the only one. I was the first. After that,
people would come and stay with me and get postdocs, but I was kind of the first
one to go do that. So, it was scary and it was intimidating, and yeah, I had
anxiety about it before I left, but, you know, you got to go. I did it. I sort
of made the transition a little bit easier for myself by going for a month and
then coming . . . . I think I must have arrived at U.S., just before U.S.
Thanksgiving staying until Christmas and coming home for Christmas. And staying
an extra three weeks at Christmas and writing a review, a paper with my PhD
supervisor and then going back to Boston for three months that time and then
coming back and defending my thesis and then going back to Boston. Then I stayed.
00:47:00DOMUSH: So, you eased in a little bit? [knocking]
PANNING: Just one second.
DOMUSH: All right, so we're back. And we were talking . . .
PANNING: About starting, was I intimidated or upset or scared about . . .
DOMUSH: About moving to Boston.
PANNING: Transition. And it was intimidating, but I did fine. So, when I first
arrived at Boston, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to find or, I went
to find a place to live two months before I actually arrived. And then realized
I wasn't going to be able to find anything that I could afford because I was
going to be there on a Canadian postdoc salary because I had Canadian fellowship
that translated to actually less than graduate students were earning at MIT.
So, I decided to move into graduate housing and get the lay of the land and
figure out where I wanted to live and what . . . if I could find a roommate
situation that I'd be happy with. So, I ended up being the third person in a
00:48:00room with two other graduate students in a three-bedroom apartment, two other
graduate students. And one of my distinct memories at MIT is moving in on a
Saturday when they were playing "Star Trek, Next Generation" or something like
that. I'm walking down this long dormitory-like hallway with "Star Trek, Next
Generation" blaring from everywhere. I mean, it was just, and then as I'm moving
in and putting my stuff in my room, they switched it over to some local MIT
channel where they deconstructed the episode of Star Trek. It was like an
actual, you know, Star Trek TV where they discussed it in great earnestness.
Yeah. This place is like as geeky as it's reputed to be.
And at this point, I was semi-goth. I had toned down goth because they'd advised
me not to be quite so scary looking when I was looking for postdocs as a
00:49:00graduate student. And I'd spend my evenings--evenings that I wasn't spending in
the lab--I would spend at either at slam poetry readings or Manray [Nightclub]
which was like the closest goth club to MIT. But yeah, I kind of became more
mainstream as [my] postdoc progressed and spent more and more time in the lab.
[. . .]
DOMUSH: Were the people that you were meeting in either Rudy's lab at MIT or
maybe the surrounding labs were . . . you know, you had always come from the
stuff before kind of with a group of people that you knew and now you were going
somewhere where you didn't necessarily know anyone. So, were you finding some
people to hang out with?
PANNING: Hang out with, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Certainly, the nice thing about
the Whitehead and one of the things that attracted me to it is that there's this
00:50:00large international community, and everyone pretty much who's there has just
gone through what I went through. They arrived recently. Now they might be there
a year by now, but it's a pile of people who were there transiently from
somewhere else in the world. Often some couples came, but a lot of single people
came. So, it was pretty easy to hook up with groups of people to do things together.
DOMUSH: Scientifically, what was it like in the lab? I mean, you had said that
in your first, in your fourth-year project, the people in the lab were not
particularly driven, not necessarily so interested and, you know, you said you
didn't want a laboratory experience like that. And I assume that in Jim's group
it was different than that.
PANNING: It was different, yeah.
DOMUSH: So, how did Rudy's lab compare?
PANNING: Rudy's lab had some very driven [people], yeah. Rudy's lab when I was
there it was I think an absolute great place. For the most part, I think it's
continually a great place. Every now and then, he had a personality who was . .
00:51:00. who can mess it up for people. But everyone was motivated, hardworking.
There were multiple areas of research in the lab, but every one area had enough
people that you could have . . . so, for instance you had some people that were
studying neural crest cells, people studying muscle development and some people
studying DNA methylation, and some people studying X-inactivation. Every group,
those groups don't have a lot in common, but every group had enough people in it
that you could have a discussion, a reasonable discussion about your topic area
and then you learned all this interesting stuff about things that you weren't
normally thinking about. So, it was, I thought it was a wonderful experience.
About thirty people in my lab and it was great because I was exposed to so much
stuff and I loved Rudolf. He was a wonderful mentor, a great guy. Left you
completely on your own, you had to figure it out on your own. But that was fine
with me because I knew I could do that.
DOMUSH: Okay. Was being in a lab with thirty people a little bit overwhelming
00:52:00sometimes? I mean that sounds very large.
PANNING: It never occurred to me to be overwhelmed.
DOMUSH: It was just what it was.
PANNING: Just what it was. So, we just, yeah.
DOMUSH: In a lab of thirty people are there still . . . you know, you said
people are working on projects that are very different. Are there still group
meetings and things?
PANNING: There were still group meetings and that's where you get most of your
exposure to all these areas that you're not as familiar with when you hear it at
a group meeting. And then you get to talk to them and make friends with people
studying neural development and learn a little bit about neural development. It
was just this really, really wonderful, enlightening, I just learned so much.
And it was fun to be there.
You know, at McMaster University it was a relatively small place. We'd get,
there was a weekly seminars series, a couple of seminar series and every once in
a while you'd get someone really good. But at MIT, it was a weekly seminar
00:53:00series and every week there was someone great, you know. It was pretty exciting
just to hear all these fantastic talks and the science that I thought was
amazing. It was just wonderful. It was, yeah, so, I was happy being there and
pretty excited about what I was being exposed to, not only locally in the lab,
but sort of in a lot of the community.
DOMUSH: Right. Did you have to do any teaching? Because you said all the way
through your postdoc or all the way through your graduate career, you had to teach.
PANNING: No teaching. It was great, other than helping grad students in the lab.
DOMUSH: Was that something that you enjoyed, that, you know, teaching technique
and things like that?
PANNING: Yeah. Or, yeah, or being the person who kind of mentored a graduate
student and helped with their project and defined their project. It was fun.
DOMUSH: Okay. So, now you were a postdoc with Rudy for about three years?
PANNING: About, I think three-and-a-half, four years nearly and then I switched
00:54:00over and did a postdoc with Phil [Phillip A.] Sharp. And that was because I
realized everything that I had done in Rudolf's lab was wonderful, but it made
me . . . . I realized I needed to use completely different approaches to get at
the heart of the problem that I wanted to solve, and I needed to go to a place
that I could learn that.
DOMUSH: And this was because you wanted to get to the heart of the problem of
X-inactivation. And so that was what you started in Rudy's lab. And you were
going to take it . . . ?
PANNING: With me, right.
DOMUSH: And how did he feel about that?
PANNING: Rudolf was fine with it. Rudolf is, again he's very supportive. He
doesn't . . . there's no, I don't know of anyone who ever had a conversation
with him saying you can't do this, I can't do that. It's always been fine. And
as people generally do really well because I think he doesn't step on their toes
or just believing is painless enough that you can have a productive conversation
about, you know, these are the things I'm going to do, and these are the things
00:55:00he does and no one really competes.
DOMUSH: Okay, did you have any issues, competition issues about maybe getting
scooped or maybe being too open with your own research, as you had had in
PANNING: Not with Rudolf. Not in Rudolf's lab. With Rudolf . . . okay, there was
one paper I published in Rudolf's lab that Rudolf had presented the results in
Britain, a meeting in Britain. And a few months
later--and Rudolf's archenemy in X-inactivation, Neil Brockdorff was at the
meeting and came up to Rudolf and said we have very similar results. How is, how
are things going or do you think your close to submission? And Rudolf said no.
And then he came back and said we have to submit it because Brockdorff has
00:56:00So within a week I had it submitted, and I was writing it anyway. It wasn't . .
. within a week I had submitted it, but it was because we could. It was together
enough that we could. So, then a month later I went to a meeting, I gave a talk
at a meeting for Rudolf. So, Rudolf decided not to go, so I gave the talk for
him. And Brockdorff was there, evil Brockdorff. I might need to edit that later.
So, I gave the talk. And Neil, I can remember I gave the talk and an editor from
Cell came up to me right after the talk, and this is where we had submitted the
manuscript. The editor came up and introduced herself to me and Neil, I didn't
know who Neil was, what he looked like. He happened to be standing close by.
Introduced herself to me and said we just got the manuscript. "We're really
excited about it," you know, and "That was a great talk." "Thank you." And
before she was like putting her hand out to say this and before she could even
00:57:00make contact with my hand, he physically shoves me aside and stands in front of
her going, "Hello, my name is Neil Brockdorff and we have a very similar story.
I hope Cell will consider it." [laughter]
PANNING: So then he disappears for the rest of the meeting . . . like,
completely gone except for when he had to be there for his talk. And of course,
we were talking to other people at the meeting, and I happened to be talking to
someone who said, "Yeah, I don't have my laptop because Neil is borrowing it to
write a manuscript that he has to get out really fast."
So mine was accepted by Cell before he actually got his submitted. And Cell
emailed us and asked whether we would consider delaying publication of our
manuscript so that his could come out. And of course we said no, so ours came
out. And then, three months later his came out that was essentially exactly the
same story, even though he had heard the whole story twice, now; we all had told
00:58:00it, and he had seen me tell it at the meeting.
PANNING: Yeah. So, that was kind of . . . but at least, we didn't get scooped,
and they both came out in the same year. It was okay.
DOMUSH: And yours came out first.
PANNING: Ours came out first. Despite that experience, I still would rather talk
about unpublished data at a meeting than talk about stuff that's been in press
for a year. That's not what those meetings are about. They're supposed to be
pushing science forward, and you don't do that by talking about stuff that
everyone already knows.
DOMUSH: Right. So when you went to work with Phil Sharp you said that it was
because you could learn something in his lab to help you with your study of
X-inactivation. What could you do in his lab that you hadn't learned previously?
PANNING: So, some biochemistry. I'd done basically biochemistry. So, in Rudolf's
00:59:00lab I had done developmental genetics, and in Jim's lab I had been doing a lot
of virology, but I'd never really isolated a complex metric . . . isolated a
group of proteins stuck together in a complex that does something. And that was
what Phil's lab had expertise in, so I went there to learn how to purify a
protein, and specifically proteins that had an RNA component or complexes that
had a RNA complex because that's what his lab specialized in. So, Phil had no
interest in studying X-inactivation. He was happy to have me in his lab for a
couple of years so I could learn, but there wasn't even any thought of
competition after I left because I was clearly coming there to learn this and
DOMUSH: Were there other labs that you considered going to, to learn that?
PANNING: I didn't even seriously look at any other labs because at this point I
had met someone in Rudolf's lab and married him, and he had taken a job in a
biotech company in the Boston area, so I didn't want to leave Boston at that point.
DOMUSH: Okay. Now, was Phil Sharp also at the Whitehead?
01:00:00PANNING: He was at MIT. So, the Whitehead is an independent research institute
that's affiliated with MIT, but it's basically independently governed and
administered. The faculty have cross-appointments at MIT, so they can get MIT
graduate students, but it's a separate entity. Phil Sharp is at MIT itself in
the biology department. So, the Whitehead was two hundred meters away. The
building that the Whitehead was housed in was two hundred meters away from the building.
DOMUSH: Your commute didn't change very much.
PANNING: So, my commute didn't change at all. [laughter] Nothing, I mean, it was
a whole new lab, a whole new environment, whole new techniques, whole new groups
of people, but it wasn't . . . . I don't consider moving from one biology lab to
another biology lab being [terribly difficult].
DOMUSH: Right. How did learning these new techniques go? Did it go smoothly? Did
it go . . . ?
PANNING: It went reasonably smoothly, yeah. I learned enough that I needed to,
01:01:00to move on. Yeah.
DOMUSH: And it served its purpose.
PANNING: It served its purpose and Phil was a wonderful man. And really . . . .
I learned a lot watching him and learning from him, so that was great, too.
DOMUSH: Were you learning directly from him about the techniques?
PANNING: No. No, not the techniques, more learning about the politics of science.
DOMUSH: Okay. You said that while you were in Rudy's lab you got married. Was he
also in Rudy's lab?
PANNING: He was also in Rudy's lab. So, we didn't meet until . . . he's Canadian
as well, from a different part of Canada. So, I've got Swiss and Canadian
citizenship, but he's Canadian from a different part of Canada, and we probably
would have never met except that we ended up postdoc'ing in the same lab. And
[we] got married pretty quickly.
DOMUSH: And so, then he moved to a biotech company in the area?
PANNING: He moved to a biotech company in the area. He didn't really want to do
research. He didn't want to go that track. It didn't appeal to him. So, he went
01:02:00into biotech, and I continued on. And then, I would say he was in his job for
about a year and a half or two years when--probably a year and a half when I
started looking for jobs . . . when I started doing an actual job search. And I
did a really, really restricted search. Actually, I had a job lined up at
Brandeis University in the Boston area. And they told me if you really,
seriously want this job you should do . . . you know, you'll get the offer, but
you need to do a search to get offers at other places. So, I did a search; I
applied to twelve places.
DOMUSH: All in the United States?
PANNING: All in the United States. Twelve places that looked interesting that
had . . . what defined the twelve places was the fact that none of this came, I
01:03:00didn't want to do a huge search and knowing that I had to do a search . . . . I
found out that I had to do a search in the end of October, and by then most of
the searches were closed. So, I didn't have an option of applying to a hundred
places anyway; which thirty, forty, fifty, sixty places is not unusual now. So,
I just took twelve that seemed reasonable and went out and got, I think, six or
seven interviews and six or seven offers and chose, and then chose UCSF because
it was wonderful. I just knew that this was where I thought I wanted to be doing
DOMUSH: When you started looking for jobs, did you have any consideration that
maybe you didn't want to go into academic research, maybe you also wanted to be
PANNING: No. I knew that I wanted to keep studying X-inactivation. And I had
done well enough in grad or in a postdoc that I could get a reasonably good job.
01:04:00DOMUSH: So, once you found out that you did have to do the search and you
applied to these six or seven places and got . . . or got six or seven
interviews, how did you decide that UCSF was the best one, especially since you
already this offer in Boston where you could have stayed, presumably very easily?
PANNING: The environment. The research environment there reminded me a lot of
the environment back in my graduate school, where it was these smaller labs that
work really closely together, and I really liked that. That was a wonderful
environment that [. . .] and it is like that here. So, that was kind of what
made it--decided me. The other places were all really good, too. They wouldn't .
. . . I just liked it here the best because of that the intensely collaborative culture.
DOMUSH: Was your husband open to moving to any of these places or did that take
01:05:00PANNING: It took a little convincing, but in the end he . . . there's biotech
here, so it worked out.
DOMUSH: Now, when you moved here were you moving into this building?
PANNING: No. I was . . . this building was built . . . we moved in here in 2003,
so spring of 2003, and I arrived in winter of 2000. So, it was about three years before.
DOMUSH: Okay. So, were you up at [the UCSF] Parnassus [Campus] then?
PANNING: We were up at Parnassus first, yeah.
DOMUSH: Okay. So, what was it like coming then? I've talked to some other people
that say they came and there was nothing. Did you have anything here that you
could start with right away, or did you really have to build up everything in
your lab from scratch?
PANNING: From here. We took about everything from Parnassus. I mean it really
wasn't . . .
DOMUSH: No, no, when you came from Boston.
PANNING: When I came from Boston. Because this is such . . . the way that the
01:06:00labs are organized here, you fit into a group of - everything is done in groups
of four labs. So, you fit into a group of four labs, and most of the
infrastructure is in place, so any major equipment is usually there. There
wasn't . . . it wasn't nothing. It wasn't that I had nothing. I had access to
just about everything I needed. I needed to buy a few small pieces of equipment,
and then the important part was beginning to build up the lab, was getting
people, getting good people to get the research started.
DOMUSH: And how did getting students or postdocs go at the beginning?
PANNING: It was fine. It wasn't difficult. Most of the time students are really
drawn to the new labs, so it wasn't hard getting students. Postdocs . . . . I
think I made a mistake in the first person I hired as a postdoc, and I had to
fire her very quickly. I think when I hired her, I was just [thinking] why, you
know why would anyone want to come and work for me? I mean this place where all
these absolutely brilliant, well-known scientists; like, I didn't know if anyone
01:07:00would ever actually work for me. I got an application from someone that looked
good on paper. I had doubts when I . . . she was from Russia. I had doubts when
I interviewed her. I thought, you know, I'll give it a shot and then she got
here and she was absolutely dreadful.
DOMUSH: Was it just a personality conflict or was her science dreadful?
PANNING: It was not a personality conflict. She had decided she worked hard
enough . . . to summarize it she decided she'd worked hard enough getting her
PhD in Russia and was here to take it easy. So, she wasn't . . . and I'm not a
slave driver by any means, but she was not willing to work to learn English. So,
she couldn't even understand what I was asking her to do half the time and the
things that even the simple things I was asking her, she wasn't doing correctly.
She didn't want to take the time to or the energy to learn English well enough
to read the protocols, and it was a very frustrating experience. I got her into
01:08:00English as a Second Language programs and did everything I could to help, but it
just wasn't . . .
DOMUSH: She wasn't working.
PANNING: She wasn't. So I had to fire her after a year-and-a-half. But it was,
she served her purpose in that you know when the graduate students came there
was a postdoc and there was a technician. You know, there were the beginnings of
a lab, and then graduate students come, and then more graduate students come,
and it's okay.
DOMUSH: So, how did it go? I mean you had this not very good experience with
your first postdoc, but how did it go to kind of learn how to be the PI?
PANNING: I don't know that I've ever learned that yet. The good people are good
no matter what. And if I can provide an environment where they can be themselves
and work on something interesting then I think I've done my job. So, that
environment defines, of course, the experiments, but, you know, you put into
01:09:00their ideas, discussion, bringing up new approaches, stuff like that. If I can
foster that, I think I've done my job. So, I'm never going to be someone that
can take an absolutely horrible person and drive them and turn them into someone
who's doing a great job, right. I can take someone who's overly good and work
with them, to help them be successful, but I'm not, I mean, I honestly don't
want to be the kind of person that micromanages or forces or, you know. But if
the person I'm working with isn't interested enough to take ownership of their
project and develop it on their own then there's not going to be anything I can
do for them. There are students that I've had that turned out not to be very
talented. I mean people who were really smart that don't have good hands and the
kind of thing I've done with them is try different projects until I figure out
something that they're good at and they can do well. And then develop a project
01:10:00that they can do over and over again, so that they can get that paper and get
their PhD. But I can't say since then, I've had anyone who was like that--who
just really had no interest in the science, wasn't motivated at all, didn't want
to get anything done, and I'm hoping it's because I know what to look out for
now, but I think it's possible I've just been lucky because I've had some really
great postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, just stellar.
DOMUSH: How big is your lab?
PANNING: Right now, it's quite small, but I've been downsizing because I have
two small children and just don't have the kind of time to spend with people.
So, there's five people right now. Yeah. At its peak, it had twelve, which was .
. . that's when I started having children. It was particularly tough when I had
one three-year-old and a son one year older, it was really, really tough going.
DOMUSH: So, do you have postdocs and graduate students right now?
DOMUSH: Do you also have . . . well, I guess, UCSF doesn't really have
undergrads, so no undergrads in your lab.
PANNING: No undergrads, no.
DOMUSH: Okay. When you first got here and you're kind of working with this
postdoc or trying to work with this postdoc and getting new graduate students in
the lab, did you have the projects laid out for them that they were going to do
at the beginning . . . that this is how I want to work on X-inactivation and
this is what you're going to do as part of that project?
PANNING: Right. So, my approach has generally been these are the areas we're
interested in. These are the kind of experiments that you could do, do a
rotation in a lab, and figure out what appeals to you and if that's something
you'd like to do. So, the graduate students sort of get a menu of options. They
come in and they say, "This is what I'm most interested in, what I'd like to
try." They get started on that. Then they do rotation. And then that can turn
01:12:00into a whole project or they can completely switch projects once they start. So,
the projects were, it was less a definition of a project, more a definition of a
problem. This is what we'd like to try to figure out. This is what we know. What
can we do to get closer to understanding how that works? Part of that is because
of the complexity of the problems. So, X-inactivation isn't, it's more than just
one problem. So, everything is complex, so I don't want to say that what I am
doing is more difficult than anyone else's or anything like that, but there's
multiple things going on. So, it's like--can I just step back and explain that,
is that okay? Is it an appropriate time?
PANNING: So, females have two X chromosomes and males have one. They silence one
to equalize X and the gene dosage between males and females. Females are
01:13:00conceived with two active X chromosomes. You can't, there's essentially genes on
the X chromosome. You can't undergo spermatogenesis genesis with inactive X
chromosome. It doesn't work. So, you can't inherit . . . it actually turns out
oogenesis are haploid half the time. So, you reactivate your inactive X
chromosome and so you have two active X chromosomes in your germ genesis as
well. So, you inherit one active X chromosome from your mom, one active X
chromosome from your dad. And then early in development, just around the time of
implantation you silence one chromosome. So, what's involved in silencing one
chromosome? It's not only do silencing. Well, it's that you have to know how
many X chromosomes you have. You don't want to silence an X chromosome if you
only have one.
PANNING: So, you need to know you have more than one, at the very least, there's
some system in place that lets you know you have one or more than one. In humans
01:14:00and, actually, in every organism except for a subset, X-inactivation is random.
So, 50 percent of these cells, the ones you got from your mom and then the other
50 percent of the cells we saw were the ones you got from your dad. So,
superimposed on this system that lets you know how many X chromosomes you have,
there has to be another system that allows it to make this random choice so
that, right, and the random choice is . . . it's robust. It happens all the time
and it's, there's mutual exclusivity. We can't find evidence for cells in which
two X chromosomes are inactive in females or two X chromosomes are active. It
really looks like it happens all the time robustly. And it happens always so
that one X chromosome is the active and the other X chromosome is the inactive.
You don't . . . somehow there seems to be some crosstalk between the two
chromosomes so that one knows what the other one is doing. And understanding how
that crosstalk could happen within the confines of a nucleus with two pieces of
01:15:00DNA forming apart from each other, that's also an interesting question. The
whole thing is developmentally regulated. It's happening at a very specific
time. What are the inputs? How do you know when in time to do this process? And
once you finally make the decision about which one is going to be active X
chromosome and which one's going to be an inactive X chromosome, how do you
physically silence five percent of your DNA in what looks to be a twelve-hour
window in development? How in the world do you do that? You know these are . . .
every one of those questions is itself a pretty interesting problem, and I'm
fascinated by all of them. And there are labs working exclusively on every one
of them. I've been lucky enough to get groups of people that have wanted to work
on more than one of them as well.
So, that's the type . . . when a graduate student comes in, I say these are the
big issues within the, if you're interested in understanding randomness this is
what our data say is going on. These are some follow-up experiments that could
01:16:00be done. That's kind of how things work. So, with people in the lab
understanding randomness, with people in the lab understanding working on
projects, understanding how chromatin are regulated, how the DNA is packaged
into chromatin and that regulates gene expression.
DOMUSH: So, do people come in then for rotations. You said UCSF students do
rotations. So, people come in for rotations and they try one of these projects;
then if they decide that they want to work in your lab, do people often switch
to some other aspect [of the research]?
PANNING: Normally, normally people by the time they're doing rotations have a
pretty good idea of the kind of things that interest them, and I very rarely
have anyone that switched to another kind of project. Usually people fall into,
they're either fascinated by this whole randomness, and how is all this going
on? Or, they're really interested in the chromatin aspect of it. How is the DNA packaged?
01:17:00DOMUSH: What do you think of rotations? When you were a graduate student you
didn't have rotations and you picked your advisor before you even got into the
graduate program. So, from your perspective now as a professor with graduate
students, how do you think that works?
PANNING: I think the rotations are an excellent idea only because it gives you
an opportunity to get to know your PhD supervisor before you actually commit to
the lab. And there was one person where I did graduate school, she was utterly a
charming woman, absolutely wonderful to people who weren't in her lab but
horrible to people who were in her lab, just awful, and no one ever got out of
there with a PhD. People left with a master's . . . just disheartened. Great
people, who I think could have done really good science, just gave up. All went
to medical school, teachers college, they were just, it was a horrible
experience. Every year, a new group of people would interview for positions, who
01:18:00interviewed for graduate school, and you come around and you interview people
before you commit to a lab. She would be her charming best, and people in the
lab would take the interviewers aside and say, "Don't come here. It's hell.
Don't do it." And every year, a group of people, there'd be a subset of people
that would say, "No, it'll be different for me." [laughter] And it never was.
The postdocs were destroyed. The grad students were emotionally awful, but
people kept coming because she was so very nice in the interview and so
incredibly charming in the interview. And, you know, you'd say, "No one's ever
gotten a PhD." They all leave. They're miserable. And a person like that could
never function in a system [with rotations] because the students would know.
They could still get postdocs because the postdoc you choose on the basis of one
01:19:00interview, but the students would know.
DOMUSH: So, how does it work? You said that researchers here are kind of
organized into groups of four, and I know, I mean even your offices are kind of
organized into these groups of four. So, do your labs work together, these other
three professors near or is it just that your labs are right next to each other?
How does that work here?
PANNING: Our labs don't work together. We actually did work very closely with
lab for one project. No. You just, you find, again it's where the project takes
you, who do you need to talk to? What do you need to do? So, I have
collaborations or interactions with labs that aren't on this floor that are in
different buildings, but these are the people we talk to day-to-day and discuss,
bounce ideas off of and it's nice. I like my colleagues. They're really good for that.
DOMUSH: Do you have joint group meetings or anything like that for your students?
01:20:00PANNING: Not with anyone here, but certainly with other groups. I've got, one of
my--so, you never know when you're sort of embarking on a discovery. You never
know what you're going to find. Luckily there's enough people here that often
you'll run into, you'll find something that someone here knows a lot about, so
if a student stumbles onto something that is relevant to what another lab
studies we now start doing joint groupings with that lab, and that student and I
will start doing joint groupings with that lab, and anyone who comes onto that
project will start doing joint groupings with that lab.
DOMUSH: So, are you doing that currently--joint group meetings?
DOMUSH: With which labs?
PANNING: So, Christine Guthrie's lab, one student is interacting with hers
because it turns out there's some splicing regulation that looks interesting,
and the student just graduated but we did a joint project on chromatin
01:21:00regulation, and we're starting up some projects on epistasis mapping.
DOMUSH: Do you have any collaborations or any . . . maybe not a formal
collaboration but kind of scientific interaction . . . you know, there's such a
large community here that's not just UCSF, but [University of California]
Berkeley and Stanford [University] are obviously, very close. There's so much
biotech in the area. Does that play a role in how your lab works at all?
PANNING: It has on occasion. We worked with people in Berkeley when they've had
a technique or skill that we could use in our set of experiments. There's . . .
in the end no, surprisingly not. If a student or postdoc in the lab starts up a
collaboration, I certainly support it, but there hasn't been anyone here whom we
have really done anything with, outside of the people at UCSF. And I don't know
why that is.
01:22:00DOMUSH: I mean, you're certainly not lacking for people here at UCSF.
PANNING: Yeah, exactly. And there's not, the areas that we study which is
epigenetics and chromatin structure that it's not huge in the Bay Area. There's
not a lot of labs in this area that study this stuff. In the beginning, for
dosage compensation . . . there's one other dosage compensation lab here and
that's Barbara J. Meyer. She's in Berkeley. But she studies in C. elegans, and I
certainly benefited from having the other Barbara here because people who are
interested in studying dosage compensation in the Bay Area would email both of
us for postdocs, and some of them would come here, so that was good.
DOMUSH: So, you said for the specifics of what your lab does, there aren't many
other groups in the Bay Area. Are those groups, are there many other groups in
general though throughout the . . .
PANNING: There are other, so for instance I have a collaboration with someone in Italy.
DOMUSH: Oh, wow. Does that mean you get to go to Italy?
01:23:00PANNING: I haven't gone yet. He keeps coming to the States. But I will someday.
And I'm a collaborator in Japan because we're more . . . from the actual
X-inactivation stuff there are people that are interested in the kind of
experiments we're doing that I just work with more closely than people around
here, because there's no other X-inactivation lab here. There's stuff that's
peripheral in X-inactivation, but not sort of the really, really guts of the
problem. No one else here does it.
DOMUSH: So, is the X-inactivation community a more open community then or is it
kind of more closed and competitive?
PANNING: It's very competitive. There are some people who are very powerful who
I'm not . . . . I don't particularly like or I don't respect would be another
way of thinking of it. And there's . . . it can be closed minded I would say is
01:24:00one way of thinking of it. I think it's opening up. More young people are joining
and it's becoming more open-minded. But there was a while where you were only
allowed to think of things sort of one way. These are some, because we don't
really have a grip on for instance, how you're doing something, how you're
making the random choice, and how you know how many X chromosomes we have. At
best, it's models. We don't have molecules. We don't have proteins for DNA
sequencing. Some . . . a lot of thinking that goes into the field is
theoretical, this is the way it could be done. For instance, many years ago, the
founder of the field--Mary Lyon--said, "This is the way I think it's happening."
And in the field, you're not allowed to come up with other ideas for the way it
could be happening. It's kind of frowned upon because that's what Mary Lyon said
01:25:00forty years ago. But in fact, there is a favored model that most people cite,
but it's not the only one, and it may even turn out to be the wrong one. But it
can be extraordinarily difficult to publish something that is not incubated that well.
DOMUSH: Is that something that you've come up against?
PANNING: Yes. It's something that I've come up against, and we figure out how to
get around it. It can be, yeah, challenging and frustrating.
DOMUSH: But you got the impression that it is starting to change
PANNING: It's changing. Yeah, absolutely. It's starting to change.
DOMUSH: And is that because there are more young professors?
PANNING: I think more [that] the field is growing. More young people are coming
in. I'd say in the last five years there's been . . . where there used to be
maybe ten labs studying it, now I think there's thirty labs studying it.
DOMUSH: So, you said that there's kind of the model from forty years ago. I
01:26:00would imagine that there have been a lot of changes in how research is done on
X-inactivation in the last forty years. In your own career of, you know,
graduate school, and postdoc, and coming here, have you seen any technology
breakthroughs or things that you need in your lab today that you can't even
imagine working without that didn't really exist when you were . . .
PANNING: Well, I mean, I'm sure you get the same answer to this, PCRs
[polymerase chain reaction], microarrays, homologous recombination to target.
Those are all things that are mainstays of what we do and it would be difficult
to . . . RNA, discovery of RNAi, being able to [do RNA interference in mammalian
cells . . . those are all enormous breakthroughs that we couldn't, we need those
techniques. We use them every day. So, it's been, yeah. And you have to, every
time something new gets discovered you have to figure out whether it's something
01:27:00you can use and incorporate into your research.
DOMUSH: So, does that play into the conversation about . . . maybe we need to
rethink this forty-year-old model? You know, there's a whole lot that's gone on
PANNING: There's a whole lot of new tools we can apply to get up the model. I
agree that the . . . to get at it you almost, you have to think of . . . we
don't even know enough about it to test it. So, the basic model would be--I'll
describe the model and then I'll explain it. The idea is that there are two--one
active and one inactive--X chromosomes. And then based on analysis of cells with
extra X chromosomes . . . humans show up in the fertility clinics with fifty
chromosomes, instead of forty-six and the four extra are the X chromosomes. And
those are all inactive. So, as long as you're normal--as long as all your
autosomes . . . you have a known number of autosomes, you just silence every X
chromosome beyond one. So, there are males out there that have four X
01:28:00chromosomes and they have four of them are, three of them are silent and they
have one active X chromosome, even though they're males. It has nothing to do
with the sex determination. It's about everything to do with measuring what
looks to be the relative number of X chromosomes to your autosome contact.
So, the model was the autosomes produced one of something. And that one of
something finds one chromosome, and that one chromosome is then designated to be
the active X chromosome, and all the others are silent. And to be able to test
that model you need to identify the one of something that the autosomes produce
and you need to identify the site on the X chromosome that it binds to. And we
don't know. We just don't. And so, we have all the tools. If we had any one of
those, we could get at it. No one's been able to find this . . . the one site on
the chromosome that something binds to, but if you don't know what's binding,
you don't even know what the site looks like. So, without the handles to go and
01:29:00get at it we can't tell with that model is what it comes down to, unless you can
find some other handles that let you develop a new model that's also consistent
with the data. So, it's complicated. And until we get what we call this
cis-inactive sequence--the DNA element that something's binding or until we get
that something that's binding there's no . . . it's still a black box. It really
is. This is like one of the ultimate black boxes. We still actually have no idea
how it's done. I have some ideas.
DOMUSH: But I can see why this would appeal to the problem-solving nature that
DOMUSH: I mean this is very much a complex problem and as you say to put it
simply. One of the things that you have to do now that you're a PI is, you know,
01:30:00help your students who are interested become kind of the best researcher that
they can be. Do you also do things like help them to write their papers?
PANNING: So, students write their first draft of their paper themselves with . .
. we'll discuss what goes in the discussion, and then I go through it and make
comments and sit down with them and explain why I made every comment. And it's a
very collaborative process, so that I try to make them understand why changes
are being made, what's being accomplished by the changes and, you know, what
we're trying to do and why we write this paper. I've been lucky in that most
students have been really good at writing, so it hasn't been a difficult process
by any means.
DOMUSH: Do students here have a scientific writing course as part of their coursework?
01:31:00PANNING: I don't think so, no. It's not [. . .] you've gotten to the point where
you're writing the result, you've done a series of experiments. You can put them
in a linear order that make some kind of sense. And then, the discussion is
what, where you put in the context of everything else that's going on in the
world. That sometimes needs a little more work. It's not . . . in the end it's
not that difficult, maybe. There's stylistic differences; for instance, I hate
using "interestingly" in a paper, a primary research publication because I'm
just reporting results. I'm not reporting how I feel about it, right?
DOMUSH: Right. Those don't sound like very scientific terms.
PANNING: I'm perfectly comfortable with having those in a review that you're
writing of someone's paper, but I just don't feel it's appropriate in a
manuscript, and I know my students purposely stick it in there to see if I
actually read it. Will I catch them? Will I take that out? [laughter]
01:32:00DOMUSH: Have you had to do anything with your students . . . other professors
that I've talked to have talked about when they get reviews back or reviews that
they don't want published . . . teaching their students about writing a
rebuttal. Have you had to do that with any of your students?
PANNING: So, with postdocs it's the same exercise, okay? Let's break down these
comments. Let's figure out how we write a letter back to get this in or don't
get it in. It's the same. And there'll be lots of discussion to mentally work
out the final version and, yeah. But it's a very collaborative, I feel like it's
a very collaborative effort always. Usually they can think of a couple of
exceptions, but generally, the student or the postdoc--and I see a postdoc as a
training experience, too--write the first draft. And I invite students and
postdocs--whenever I get an invitation to write a review, I always ask a student
01:33:00or a postdoc if they want to help me and get to write the first draft, and then
we work through it together.
DOMUSH: Wow, that's great. That's actually different than a lot of other Pew
Scholars that I've talked to, who said that they, that's something that they
don't expose their students to.
PANNING: So I guess it's your perception of what your job is. My job is to train
these people. And so, these are the things they need to learn: one of them is
writing. One of them is identifying an interesting problem, breaking it down to
doable experiments or doable sub-problems that can be addressed experimentally
and communicating all that; and also, making other people realize how
interesting the problem is. So, choosing something that's interesting, and sort
of reinforcing that it's interesting for other people. I had one technician who
desperately wanted to go to grad school, and he couldn't identify an interesting
problem if it hit him in the face. I mean he was just a very sweet guy, but he
would get caught by stuff that was really peripheral and not--at least to me
01:34:00seemed very peripheral--maybe it was fascinating, but he didn't make a case for
it being fascinating to me or other people. And that was just not the kind of
things he would want to follow up on, were not going anywhere.
DOMUSH: When you write grants, do you also expose your students to that type of writing?
PANNING: Yeah. I get their comments on the grants. You depend more on my
colleagues for input on grants because they have more experience with the study
sections and the politics. The grantsmanship is probably more political than it
is scientific, so go to the right people for the right help.
DOMUSH: Right. You had a student come in just now asking about if you'd heard
back or if you heard back from Genes and Development. Have you had an experience
like you had in graduate school where someone stole your data and ended up
01:35:00scooping you? Have you had to rush out a publication?
PANNING: We've not ever had to rush out publications. That's not true. There was
one publication that we knew we had competition on and I was collaborating with
another lab, and we did get that out very quickly. But for the most part, we
haven't had to rush anything out. What we do is different enough from the rest
of the world that we haven't been particularly worried. Hold on, that is twice.
There was also another with Meter. We had been working on the story for a long
time, and we thought we had no competition. Then Meter was just taking his time.
And there was one experiment that would have moved it into a really top tier
journal. And he just wasn't working hard on it and luckily, we got an advanced
online, like from Genes and Development back then, a paper that had significant
overlap with ours was coming out and it wasn't in press, yet. We just knew it
01:36:00was coming out in a month's time. So, Meter just wrote his up really quickly and
sent it to Journal of Biological Chemistry. It
probably would have gone to like a Genes and Development or Cell if we had time
to do that last experiment. But since his, since we could have tried something a
bit trickier which would have been going to another pretty good journal, Nature
Structural & Molecular Biology with the semi complete story and hope that while
it was under review they'd gotten that last experiment done. But Meter just
didn't want to risk it. He just wanted to get it out, and he had a postdoc,
lined up and he was ready to go. So, that's the . . . it was his . . . there it
was his choice. I would have been happy to go either route, but he just wanted
to get it out.
DOMUSH: Normally how do you decide where to submit a paper to which journal?
PANNING: I talk to people, figure out how, what journal's appropriate for us. I
talk to people outside the field, what kinds of things are they publishing? If
01:37:00you know a little bit about the editors, you know what their expertise is, so
that particular editor did graduate work or postdoctoral work in this field, so
maybe they're more interested in this, than another editor. You can, the
journals sort of publish a spectrum of things, and you know where your stuff
lies within that spectrum, so there are multiple tiers of journals from good to
bad that all publish cell biology. So, you decide how good your paper is, how
exciting is it and try and get it into the best journal that it possibly can.
Some people just send everything to a top-tier journal, and that's definitely
not the . . . . I like to think I instill in my students and I too have a little
more sense than, you know, just wasting time if it really doesn't have a chance.
DOMUSH: Right. But stuff that doesn't have a chance in the top-tier journal but
does in the next tier.
PANNING: The next tier level, yeah, right.
DOMUSH: Okay. Aside from, you know, teaching your students about writing and
01:38:00guiding them through their research work, are there other kind of duties . . .
what kind of things do you do here at UCSF that maybe take you away from the lab?
PANNING: So, there's medical school teaching which involves--it's not
didactic--it's small-group teaching, problem-based learning with groups of
fourteen medical students. I think I have six or, I think, seven sessions,
two-hour sessions, and it's a lot of work. The fact that it starts next month
and I've got two months of it that take me away a lot, just the standard stuff.
I'm sure you've heard this from all the other Scholars reviewing manuscripts for
journals, being on thesis committees, being on different university committees
from the graduate admissions committee, it's the students of the committee, the
curriculum committee for the graduate students. I'm not even naming them all,
01:39:00there's just lots of them, so you're always helping, doing sort of community
work, just going to scientific meetings and giving talks that takes you away.
And I haven't been doing that so much for the last year. I'm finally at the
point now, where my husband can look after the kids by himself, and I can start
going away more than once a year.
DOMUSH: That sounds great.
PANNING: Yeah. This year should be fun. Yeah. Writing grants, writing review
papers like other manuscripts takes quite a while when I get one, which is frequently.
DOMUSH: Do you ever have an opportunity to actually be in the lab yourself now?
PANNING: [Yes], I do. I go in quite a bit. I can't follow one project through to
completion, but I can walk in and say, "Look, I've got a free afternoon today or
a couple of free afternoons this week; is there something I can do for you?" And
then, if someone has an experiment that I can help them with I'll do it.
01:40:00DOMUSH: Okay. When you first got to UCSF as a PI were you . . . ?
PANNING: I was in the lab all the time. Yeah. Now, it's a lot less, but I'm
still there. I'm hoping I never have to give it up completely, but we'll see.
DOMUSH: Does the summer afford more opportunity for that or . . . ?
PANNING: The summers a little more . . . right, I don't have as many teaching
responsibilities. Because also, I teach in graduate courses, so we have a
first-year graduate curriculum. I teach there, as well, yeah, all that. I don't
do that during the summer, so that makes it a little easier.
DOMUSH: A little bit more time.
PANNING: Little bit more time. But this summer I have to admit I've used the
time to do things like take my six-year-old to Raging Waters for a day [and] do
Mommy stuff which I'm trying to juggle in amongst the work stuff as well. [laughter]
DOMUSH: Right. I can imagine that we'll probably discuss some of that more
01:41:00tomorrow. The way you phrased the work that you do at UCSF, a lot of the
committee work you termed it as the "community." Is some of that work for UCSF
actually going out to the community and doing anything?
PANNING: Not so often. There are, there's teaching that you can do. Well,
they're always needing people to help with the scientific outreach teaching
programs. But that's mainly graduate students and postdocs that can take a few
hours a day for ten weeks to go teach fifth grade students, and I just don't
have the time to do that. Every now and then people from UCSF are asked to give
lectures as community outreach. I'll go and give talks at conferences or
universities with large minority populations to try and increase the visibility
of UCSF and science education, graduate school in particular amongst minorities.
01:42:00There's not that much science outreach that the university does. We offer a
medical school . . . a mini medical school [for the public] and sometimes . . .
one year that I helped with that. I helped develop some lectures for that where
people can learn a little bit about medical school or areas of medicine. Every
year it's a different theme.
DOMUSH: Okay. I think we're almost at a good stopping point for today, and I
think that tomorrow we'll pick up and start talking a little bit about the Pew
fellowship and then go off from there into some of these larger issues about
science. But I did have one question and, of course, if there's anything that
you wanted to bring up it's more than okay. When you [. . .] started your job
search and you and your husband were thinking about places you could go if you
01:43:00chose not to stay in Boston, did you think about going back to Canada?
PANNING: No, there isn't so much in the way of biotech opportunity in Canada, so
my husband is actually the one who decided, no, we don't want to go to Canada.
When we got together, our original dream had been to get jobs in British
Columbia, back in Canada, and when he decided to take the move to biotech there
was, that was kind of a no-brainer, like it wasn't going to happen. So when I
got the job on the west coast it was pretty exciting because we wanted, it's a
place he loves more. The reason we wanted . . . he grew up in Edmonton, Alberta
which is landlocked. It's Montana and right north really to the Arctic Circle.
[laughter] It's the middle of nowhere. He never wants to go back there. But his
family had always taken vacations down the West Coast in Oregon and Washington
and very rarely into northern California, but those are where all his best
memories were, and that's why he wanted to settle in British Columbia at some
point. So this was the next best thing.
01:44:00DOMUSH: Okay. Is that changing at all, or do you have any sense of whether
that's changing about biotech being a more in the United States thing than a
PANNING: There are biotech companies that are now starting up in Canada, more of
them in the Toronto area, so, yeah, it's changing. There are and will be
opportunities there in the future and now.
DOMUSH: Interesting. Did you think about going to Europe at all or was that just
kind of too far away now?
PANNING: So, because I had Swiss citizenship it would have been, I probably
could have gone anywhere, but it would have been easy for me to get a job in
Switzerland--being a female. But I didn't . . . my husband had done a postdoc in
Switzerland before he came to Boston and really didn't like it, so he didn't
want to be that far away. He didn't enjoy it. And for me, Switzerland is a very
. . . people are very staid and slow to change. So, you can be living there for
ten years before you get invited to someone's home for dinner.
DOMUSH: Oh, wow.
01:45:00PANNING: They're a very closed culture, and I didn't want to go back and work my
way back into that. That didn't appeal to me at all, and I wanted to be a little
closer to my family. Not that it's, my family's all in Toronto or Europe, but my
parents and brother and sister are all in Toronto, so that's . . .
DOMUSH: Maybe it's a little bit closer than . . .
PANNING: Six of one, half a dozen of the other. It's the same plane ride basically.
DOMUSH: Do you get any opportunities still to go back to Switzerland?
PANNING: We try and go back. I've gone back maybe three times with my husband. I
try and go back as much as I can. It's just getting awfully expensive with two children.
PANNING: And double the airfare now, right. And airfare's not cheap.
DOMUSH: No, certainly not. Since he did a postdoc in Switzerland, does he speak German?
PANNING: He was in Geneva, [Switzerland], and he learned a little bit of French.
DOMUSH: Little bit of French.
PANNING: It is, you know, you're again in this microcosm where everyone's
01:46:00speaking English because it's international, and that's the language of science.
So, he didn't get that much of an opportunity. He didn't like it, so he came
back the States pretty quickly.
DOMUSH: Right, okay. Well, unless there's anything that you want to add today .
PANNING: No. I'll ponder this tonight and maybe I'll have some questions tomorrow.
PANNING: All right, great.
[END OF AUDIO, FILE 1.1]
[END OF INTERVIEW]
DOMUSH: Today is 28 August. Again, I'm Hilary Domush and I'm here at UCSF with
Dr. Barbara Panning. And yesterday we finished off for the day talking about
when you began as a PI. And so, today I wanted to begin talking a little bit
about the Pew fellowship. And first of all, I'm interested to know if you were
familiar with the Pew fellowship before you applied?
PANNING: I had not heard of it before I applied. I knew that there were . . .
01:47:00when I arrived at UCSF I was told about fellowships that I could apply for, and
Pew was amongst them. But up to that point, I hadn't known about it.
DOMUSH: Okay. So, when you got here and they told you about the fellowships that
you could apply for or that you were encouraged to apply for, did you just apply
for all of them or did some seem more appealing?
PANNING: They all seemed pretty appealing. So, what happens is you apply for all
of them, and an internal committee decides who to put forward for each
individual function. So, you go through an internal competition first, and then
if your application is selected it was forwarded. So, it happened that Pew was
the first one in the calendar that I applied for it, and I was put forward for it.
DOMUSH: How did writing the application go? I've been told that writing a Pew
application is very different than other funding agencies that you're used to
01:48:00PANNING: The one thing that's different is highlighting the research that you
propose to do with the Pew, how unique, different, and challenging, possibly not
fundable by other mechanisms. You see that in some applications, but you don't
see that so often. So, that component of it didn't--couldn't--be done on
autopilot that you would write every other grant.
DOMUSH: Was that something that . . . was it easy to describe the ways in which
your research was risky or possibly not fundable by . . . ?
PANNING: In short, no problem. [laughter]
DOMUSH: Okay. What about it was risky?
PANNING: So, again, I described about X-inactivation and how we basically don't
even have molecular handles on any of the events. And some of them we do have
handles on and that allows us to move forward a little bit. What I wrote the
fellowship on was something that we didn't have such a great handle on, and it
01:49:00was certainly nothing that would have been fundable from a place like the NIH
[National Institutes of Health] because there just wasn't enough what you call
preliminary results . . . preliminary data that NIH would have had confidence
that this would have yielded publications somewhere down the line.
DOMUSH: Okay. And were you able to achieve your Pew goals that you set out?
PANNING: I would have to go back and look at the original fellowship application
to figure out if I did everything. I did a good portion of it.
DOMUSH: Okay. So, when you got the Pew fellowship, obviously, compared to an NIH
grant the money is not that substantial, particularly compared to NIH. What did
you do with that money?
PANNING: I used it to pay for other technicians or graduate students for the
duration of the fellowship. So, it allowed me to hire someone that I wouldn't
have been able to hire otherwise, which allowed [. . .] projects to move forward
01:50:00that would never have even gotten off the ground. So, that was big. I mean
that's not just . . .
DOMUSH: Do you remember how big your lab was at that time?
PANNING: When I first got the fellowship, I think I had four people, two
graduate students, a technician, and a postdoc. And by the time with the
fellowship, I think I had twelve.
DOMUSH: Oh, wow. So, that really . . . it really took off.
PANNING: It helped, yeah. So, it certainly helped, the other things helped as
well, projects coming together and stuff like that.
DOMUSH: Okay. Can you talk a little bit about your experience at the Pew meetings?
PANNING: So, you don't need introduction to the Pew meetings here, I'm sure.
They're held at beautiful, balmy locations and in the nicest suites I've ever
been to in my entire life. And great opportunity to get to meet other scientists
and talk about life and science in no particular order in an environment where
01:51:00it's not--where it's more relaxing. So, it was . . . they were wonderful. [. .
.] I made it to the first retreat. The second retreat I'd had a baby in [. . .]
I'm not sure if I missed one or two retreats. I'd have to go back and
look--because of recently having had babies, or having a newborn. Certainly, my
second child was born in December, and I couldn't make it to the following March
retreat, so I didn't even get the full retreat experience or benefit from the
full four years of retreats. But the ones that I went to I remember being a . .
. part of me thinking, I wonder if the Pew could put this money into research
instead of the retreat. [laughter] Part of me thinking this is a really
01:52:00enjoyable break and I really got a chance to meet people that were doing
research in a field that was outside of mine that I wouldn't have run into in
the course of the normal set of conferences that I go to.
So, I feel like my experience was really broadened. I made connections with
people that I wouldn't have made connections with otherwise, and it's been
great. And every now and then I'll need something and I'll look it up, look up
who can provide it, like a construct or something like that and it's an ex-Pew
fellow. And it's a great way to start the email you know saying we were in Pew
together and now I'm asking you for something. And you usually get a response
that says oh, those meetings were great. I wish that we keep going to those meetings.
DOMUSH: I mean, aside from, you know, being able to email someone and say
remember that meeting, can I borrow such and such . . . did any type of
collaboration come out of it?
01:53:00PANNING: A couple. I don't know if they went very far. Sort of ideas, and we
sent reagents back and forth. And then they never really went anywhere. So, it
was kind of, wouldn't this it be cool if this was true? Let's test it. And it
wasn't and we didn't go any further.
DOMUSH: Okay, but the idea and the conversation was out there. I know you said
that at the Pew meetings you were being exposed to people, you know, kind of all
walks of biology that you don't really run into at most meetings that you're
going to. Did it make you want to seek out kind of a broader swath of scientists
after those meetings were over? I mean there's so much to be gained from going
to a conference where everyone knows what you're talking about.
DOMUSH: But what is there to be gained, I guess, from going to a meeting where
you can't . . . you're not necessarily speaking the same terminology?
PANNING: So, you learn about tools that are emerging in other fields that you
01:54:00could apply to your own field. Sometimes you learn about different ways of
thinking about things, about problems. So, the problem of one. How do you choose
one of something? This does it many, many different times and it does it in the
context of X-inactivation and also does it in a context of just making one
centriole. So, talking to centriole people to see how they think about a
problem, let me figure out different ways of thinking about a problem that I was
working with. So, it broadens your approach, your thinking, so that's good. Did
I go out and purposefully seek that in my choice of meetings or collaborators
after Pew meetings or as a result of Pew meetings? Not particularly.
DOMUSH: I mean, I'm not sure. When I ask the question I'm not sure how one would
even do that, so I don't know if it's . . .
PANNING: So, one example would be to try to go to a scientific meeting just
01:55:00outside of your field and it's kind of peripheral [or] tangential, and hope that
you learn something there. But meetings are expensive. I have two small
children, limited amount of time you can travel. So, realistically it's not
really a possibility.
DOMUSH: Are there opportunities on campus where maybe you could be doing something?
PANNING: Right, exactly. So, I'm exposed to that all the time. We have retreats
where virtually every researcher at UCSF heads out to [Lake] Tahoe for the long
weekend. And we - and not everyone talks every year, but in the rotation of
every two or three years, everyone gets a chance to speak. We have . . .
DOMUSH: Those sound like mini Pew retreats being in a very . . .
PANNING: Mini Pew retreats.
DOMUSH: Pretty location.
PANNING: The accommodations aren't quite as luxurious but it's still pretty
nice. And we have a Friday and a departmental meeting and an interdepartmental
meeting once a week. And in the departmental [meeting] everyone in the
department gets up once a week and talks about what they're doing. And the
01:56:00research in the department ranges from neurodevelopment and flies to purifying
complexes and to the basic, very biochemistry, biophysics to development and
genetics. So, you get exposed to a lot there. And there's an interdepartmental
meeting where all the departments, neuroscience, physiology, cell systems
biology departments are present. So, you get a really broad swath of what's
DOMUSH: These things that you just mentioned, are graduate students and postdocs
at these as well or is it just faculty.
PANNING: This is faculty. And then there's the departmental seminar series which
brings in people from, that are doing, a huge variety of science, every Tuesday
afternoon. And so the graduate students and everyone goes to those. The
departmental retreat or the huge retreat in Tahoe, everyone is invited to, grad
students, postdocs, everyone, but those weekly meetings were just faculty.
01:57:00They're more . . . we think of them more as faculty development than development
DOMUSH: Do you find that graduate students or postdocs . . . . I mean, UCSF is a
very rigorously academic place, are graduate students and postdocs inclined to
go to talks and symposia that are not directly related, but that they see the
benefit of going a little bit tangential or is that something that you kind of
have to . . .
PANNING: I think if it looks like the talk will be interesting enough, they'll
go. So, even if it's completely unrelated to what they're doing if either the
title is interesting or we've talked to them about the speaker and saying
they'll give a really interesting talk, often if it's a high profile, really
high-profile paper that's come out in the last year, pretty much everyone in the
building will go. There are days when there are talks done in the auditorium
when, if you're late, you're not getting a seat.
01:58:00DOMUSH: Okay. And before you went to your first Pew meeting were you excited
about interacting with biomedical scientists that weren't quite in your field or
did you . . . ?
PANNING: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I had already, coming from Rudolf's lab where it
was great to be learning something about neurosciences. I completely see the
benefits of that, so oh, yeah. It's wonderful to be interacting with a disparate
group of people.
DOMUSH: So often outside of science or depending on who you talk to, it's so
easy to get so focused on what you're doing and not see the benefit or not even
realize that there are kind of these other important things . . .
PANNING: There's other things out there.
DOMUSH: And, you know, especially like you said that really could apply or help
you think about something in a new way. So, that was something you were looking
forward to going to Pew?
01:59:00DOMUSH: Okay. Did your husband get to go with you to the meetings?
PANNING: One meeting my husband and son went. So, my first child went with and
we were, and then it was a Puerto Rico meeting and then we stayed [and] turned
it into a vacation as well. I discovered at that meeting and a few other things
that I attempted that you can't do meetings with them. It just divides your
attention and you don't do either of them justice. So, it was a learning experience.
DOMUSH: Well, he was probably excited for it to be a learning experience and go
to Puerto Rico anyway, maybe.
PANNING: Yeah. And we stayed an extra week in Puerto Rico after that. So, that
was good. That was nice.
DOMUSH: Do you think that it's just that it's too hard to split up the time
between family and scientific meeting or was there more that Pew could have done
to help with that?
PANNING: I realistically don't think there's anything that Pew can do. When you
02:00:00have . . . in my case that he was just under two--twenty-four, twenty-three,
twenty-two months old--and he sees Mommy somewhere in the building and he wants
. . . the child needs your attention. It's very difficult for my husband to look
after a child alone in a hotel room without the normal things you have at home
to distract them. So, it's just, it's very . . . and the child knows you're
there, so why isn't Mommy here at eight o'clock to put me to sleep? Because
there's an evening meeting. And Pew can't . . . basically there would be
comfortably maybe two blocks during the day where I could leave the kid with my
husband. And there's some times when it's more important that I'm around. [. .
.] It's just hard to juggle it all. It's very hard to juggle.
02:01:00I've seen other meetings where there are more families there, where the families
and the children know each other and then you can take advantage of kids playing
together and enjoying each other and then the fact that one parent isn't there
isn't quite so difficult on them or hard on them. But that's not really possible
with the Pew, I don't believe. People are there for four years and come in and
out, and I don't think that's going to work. Who knows that maybe there's a
creative way to think about it.
DOMUSH: I spoke with another Scholar recently, who said that she also missed
some of the Pew meetings because of when her children were born, either they
were just born, or just about to be born, and, you know, she couldn't go. And
she said she really wished that Pew had let her make up the meetings. Is that
something that you also would have liked to take advantage of?
02:02:00PANNING: I wouldn't have said no. [laughter] Certainly, I wouldn't have said no.
But it didn't occur to me. You're in a class. So, when you're, it's kind of, it
also would be bizarre to be sort of disconnected. You're sort of one group of
people and you go there four years together. And those are people you get to
know the best because you overlap with them the most. So, it would be kind of
bizarre to be there an extra year and effectively maybe know some of the people--
DOMUSH: But you wouldn't have that same class feeling. Do you think that . . .
the Pew fellowship is a fellowship for young investigators, and many people are
starting families, is there . . . . I mean, what can be done [. . .] by Pew to
help with that? You know, I mean people talk about how great it is to have the
meetings in Puerto Rico, but maybe if they were somewhere in the United States
02:03:00or continental United States maybe it would be easier?
PANNING: I think the aim of the Pew is to promote . . . in addition to
biomedical research in the United States, they also have this Latin American
Fellows [Program in the Biomedical Sciences], and the two meetings are held
together. I think it's quite important for them to have it in some Latin
American country which kind of lets out the United States. So, granted it would
be easier in the United States, but I think what the Pew is trying to accomplish
makes it difficult to do that. So, I had to miss a meeting or two and a few
other people had to miss a few meetings. It was, you know, it wasn't
devastating. I mean, you move on. I think what the Pew is trying to accomplish I
would argue is more important than the inconvenience I had because I couldn't go
to a couple of meetings.
DOMUSH: Did you get to interact with the Latin American Fellows at all?
PANNING: Yeah. You get a chance to interact with anyone that you feel like
02:04:00basically that you're willing to go up and talk to and interact with. And the
Latin American Fellows at the meeting have poster sessions specifically where we
all go around and talk to them about their science. So, there's events organized
so that you can talk, events organized to facilitate interaction between the
Latin American Fellows the Scholars. They're a different population because the
Latin American Fellows are postdoctoral fellows and Pew Scholars are
faculty--junior faculty. I mean, there's different concerns and certainly there
was discussion between the two groups, probably more of a mentoring from the
faculty to the Fellows.
DOMUSH: Did you get to interact with the Advisory Committee members?
PANNING: Absolutely. Yeah. You see them. They're everywhere, you know. They were
in the bars at night and they were at dinner times. So, yeah, you got, I got
lots of chances to talk to them, too.
DOMUSH: Was there anyone in particular that you were kind of excited to go and
02:05:00meet or maybe a little wary of walking up to them and on the beach.
PANNING: Yeah. I don't think I ever . . . when the opportunity presented itself
I would certainly talk to people, but I wouldn't seek anyone out. But I had lots
of chances to talk to people [. . .] whose science I've always admired and got
and it was very interesting to interact with them, ask what was happening. You
know interact with them and ask what was going on in their labs at this time.
So, everyone like Tobin and Gerry [Gerald R.] Crabtree, Larry, his name is
[Larry Prisky] I had some fascinating discussions. So, it was really good. It
DOMUSH: Okay. Just before we move on to something else, is there anything about
the Pew fellowship maybe in comparison to some other kind of young investigator
fellowships that you know of or anything that the Pew could do differently? I
02:06:00mean, aside from funding you forever, you know, something like that, but
anything that would have made that experience or that program more beneficial?
PANNING: So, I didn't have any other fellowships so I can't compare the
experience. I think the Pew, when I've spoken to people who had a Searle
[Scholars] or a Packard [Fellowship] I think the Pew did things a little bit
differently. There was maybe a bit more attention paid to, for instance,
developing managerial skills and Ed [Edward H. O'Neil] did his talks about that,
which were always entertaining and very informative. So, I think that was
unusual about the Pew and maybe something that could be developed more. They're
02:07:00certainly . . . they were aware of issues and would have mini sessions on them
like grant-writing where people could talk to members of the [SIB] or other Pew
Scholars and discuss things like that. And in the context of and these occurred
in the context of the retreat and I don't know if anything more could be done,
anything more structured, for example, because of the amount of time that they .
. . this was what they were trying to stick in, in between all the talks that
are given and all the other things that are going on. I never really thought
about it deeply enough, and off the top of my head, I think they do more than
most other people do and can't think of anything else. But I may have an
epiphany at midnight tonight and I can get back to you. [laughter]
DOMUSH: Okay. You said that they do things like talk about managerial skills or
about grant-writing; is that something that . . . you know, everyone that's
02:08:00there is a relatively young PI, you know, in various stages of being junior
faculty. Are those the type of things that you're all talking about with each
other or conversations kind of more like this is the research I'm doing . . . ?
PANNING: There would be the whole gamut. There would be experiences at study
sections. The kind of things you can do to help grants. Have you got your first
grant yet? Many of the people at Pew [meetings] don't have their first grant
yet. Certainly the whole gamut but that from your research, what we're trying to
address, to how you like living in the city that you're in. Common friends. Many
people know other people--that's, you know, just from social to work-related.
They all sort of happened in a very casual environment.
DOMUSH: So, do you think then that because the Pew meeting really has kind of
02:09:00this wide swath of biological sciences that it makes it easier to talk about not
just science but some of those other things, whereas maybe at a more specialized
meeting where everyone can really talk about the same aspect of science you get
so focused and maybe you don't talk about some of those other really important issues?
PANNING: I think the Pew meeting also explicitly states that you want to talk
about some of these issues. They have small forums on grant-writing. They have
management, understanding management, or what you can do to manage your lab
better. Those are all issues that are brought up, and at other scientific
meetings, they just wouldn't really be brought up. So, independently people can
try to discuss those things with others that they meet at the meeting and it may
be appropriate in some circumstances and not others.
DOMUSH: Okay. So, what are some of the other meetings that you go to? I know you
said that you've been going to fewer since your children.
02:10:00PANNING: Mainly meetings on epigenetics or chromatin transcription. Those would
be sort of the key areas. Every decade there's one meeting on X-inactivation
that I would go to. But no, you know, chromatin regulation and
epigenetics-related fields, transcriptional regulation. Those would be the kind
of meetings I would go to. And they would take place in, they would be the
Keystone Meetings, or FASEB [Federation of American Societies for Experimental
Biology] meetings which often go on in Colorado in the summer, or Gordon
Conferences which were often on the east coast at the small schools in the
summer. The Keystone Meetings . . . . I organized one a year ago, about a year
ago now, that was a ski meeting in Ontario [Canada], so . . .
DOMUSH: How was it organizing a meeting? Is that a . . . ?
PANNING: Little bit stressful. But it was okay. You write a grant to pay for it,
02:11:00and you invite speakers, and some say no, and then you invite more speakers, and
then you hope people think you put together a meeting that's interesting enough
that they want to come. That happened, so it was good. Yes.
DOMUSH: Did you get to expose your students to anything about kind of planning a meeting?
PANNING: No, that really, wasn't really an option. I guess, every now and then,
I would walk in and say do you think we should--have you ever heard this person
speak? Do you think we should invite them to a meeting? So, my students come
from places like Harvard [University] and MIT, and they've been exposed. And the
postdocs in particular did graduate school, and got to [go], and had been to
meetings and heard all sorts of speakers. So, I'd ask for advice, but not really
the nitty-gritty of organizing the whole thing.
DOMUSH: Okay. So, when you first got your Pew fellowship you didn't have NIH funding?
PANNING: I did have. I had gotten NIH funding.
02:12:00DOMUSH: Okay. So, when you started the Pew you had your NIH funding. How do you
think then the Pew and the NIH at the same time kind of helped to reinforce each
other? You know, that all of a sudden you must have had, must have seemed like
there was a lot going for your lab kind of money or prestige-wise. So, what
changed all of a sudden?
PANNING: It just gave me the flexibility to expand the lab, to have more
graduate students and postdocs, so to do projects that I wouldn't have otherwise
started, because they were . . . the Pew in particular, because they were a
little bit risky. The NIH is a little bit more constrained. That was the main
thing I think. Again, just more opportunity because the more money you have, the
more people you can hire and the more opportunity you have, the more hands you
have working on projects.
DOMUSH: And it just feeds into it, you know the more . . .
PANNING: And, it just feeds into it, right.
02:13:00DOMUSH: Okay. Can we talk a little bit now about NIH funding, and this has been
a big topic of discussion with many of the other Scholars. So, one thing that I
found out earlier this week is that I was told that the NIH grants are dropping
in size--the actual size of the grant from I think twenty-five pages to fifteen.
PANNING: Yes. They will be getting shorter.
DOMUSH: Which to me sounds like a huge decrease in the amount of space you have
to talk about your research. So, I don't know when this goes into effect or when
it will start to affect you, but are you excited about this decrease in the
amount to write, or is it going to be harder to say what you need to say in
PANNING: It will not be harder if you have enough published results that you can
02:14:00justify the research. So, basically, right now the way the grants are structured
there's one page is specific aims, where you clearly state what you want to do,
very precisely. The next page is background and significance or the next two
pages are background and significance, relatively briefly providing the
background. And then the next . . . so, it's a twenty-five page . . . the next
ten pages--ten to eleven pages are preliminary results. And the next ten to
eleven pages are experimental findings. So, if you can just get rid of all the
preliminary results section which you can do by referring to the published
papers, then this isn't too difficult. If you don't have a lot of published
papers then it becomes tricky because you have to use six of your pages to
present preliminary results, or if you want something new that you haven't
published yet--breaking out into an area you haven't published yet--you're in
02:15:00the same quandary. You have to present some preliminary results to justify the
fact that you have ideas, that you can do these experiments, that there's the
kernel of something interesting there.
So, then you have to cut away from your experimental plan and there you're
trying then to balance how much detail do you go into in the experimental plan
to justify getting money to continue doing work for the next four or five years.
And I'll suspect there'll be burps and difficulties for everyone as they make
the transition. In the end, my guess is the study sections are going to be so
grateful that they don't have to read ten grants of twenty-five pages in great
detail to comment on.
DOMUSH: Do you think though that it might make . . . . I mean, people are
talking all the time about, you know, fewer grants are being funded because
there's less funding available. But, if you cut ten pages out of the grant, is
02:16:00there a concern that the choice for who does get funding might be more arbitrary
or is it arbitrary now?
PANNING: It's already very arbitrary or there's certainly a huge arbitrary
component to it and enormous political considerations. And I don't think that's
going to go away as they get shorter. I think right now the feeling that
everything is funding at five or at least five percent fewer grants than they
used to, at least, if not more. And senior investigators are losing their grants
or not getting them renewed the first time. And the feeling is you're just
waiting your turn. So, depending on where you are in the lineup for waiting your
turn, you may have to go through a couple rounds of going, of not . . .
PANNING: Resubmission before you get funding.
DOMUSH: Have you had to go through . . . ?
PANNING: I had to go through rounds of resubmission, yeah, and the political
things that come into play. So, I just had an interesting conversation with the
02:17:00person who used to be head of my study section. And she stepped [down]. She was
finished, done her tenure, and we were talking and she said, "Oh, yeah, you
should never send any grants to the study section. I couldn't tell you that
before because I was head, but there's one person on that study section who
knows your field, has very firm ideas of what's going on, and you will never get
a grant funded."
DOMUSH: Wow. Are there other study sections that you can submit to?
PANNING: Well . . . so, certainly now, I've started looking for other study
sections that I can repackage the research to go to different sections are
funding that area of the research and you know in NIH-based mechanisms.
DOMUSH: Wow. I guess that's good information to know.
PANNING: It was good information.
DOMUSH: It would have been . . .
PANNING: But, you know, politically, you know, I've been banging my head against
the wall at that study section before.
02:18:00DOMUSH: Right. Is there any way to kind of take that aspect out of NIH funding,
do you think, or is it just that people are making these decisions and people
have their own agenda?
DOMUSH: Now I remember when I was in chemistry as a graduate student we were
forced to do a lot of work by our professor that when it came time for grant
submission. Do your students do work to help you? I mean written work as opposed
to their research work.
PANNING: No, I have them read over the grants, but I don't have them write any
of the grants. I know some people who have been very successful here to have
their students and postdocs write portions of the grant. But I feel like that's
such an inappropriate use, though. I mean, it's good for them to help and to
think about it, and I certainly talk about . . . . I could structure it this way
and these are the, you know, do these experiments make sense? So, a lot of
discussion, but the actual sitting down and writing is not really their job. I
certainly take input, but I don't feel like I should be taking time away from
02:19:00them getting their thesis or their papers done to write the grant. On the other
hand, it could be considered really good training experience, so . . .
DOMUSH: But they do get to read through the grants.
PANNING: Read through it and they make comments on it. And they . . . specific
aims have changed completely because of their input, so . . .
DOMUSH: So they're, they are taking . . .
PANNING: They're involved.
DOMUSH: Have you had any students that have come to you and said, "You know,
there's just not enough funding in general, and I don't want to do this anymore
because I don't think that it's a fundable job"?
PANNING: I've had postdocs that have decided to go into editing and students
that have decided to go into scientific editing and students that have gone to
biotech because . . . they were all females, and I don't think it was strictly
02:20:00the funding. It was also [that] they all wanted to have families and it was just
the thought of balancing this job with a family and in the best of times, much
less in this environment where the NIH isn't terribly forthcoming for the most
part they just decided that that wasn't the way they wanted their lives to be.
DOMUSH: Do you think that there's any sort of--bias isn't necessarily the right
word--but that maybe women in science are put at some sort of disadvantage in
funding because you know if they are having a family as you said yesterday, you
know the earlier . . . again "burden" is not the right word, but there's so much
. . .
DOMUSH: Yes. There's so much more demand on the woman early on and maybe that's
keeping them from publishing as much preliminary data or I don't know. Do you
02:21:00think that . . . ?
PANNING: I think that it's situation dependent. I have some friends who either
can afford a nanny or have family close by, and in that instance with that much
support having children isn't that difficult. If you're in a situation where you
can't afford a nanny and there's no family close by, those are the people who I
see having the most difficult time. And [. . .] is there anything that can be
done about that? I honestly don't know. I can't even think of a fair way of
addressing it because every situation is so different. So, is there one rule
that could apply to all?
DOMUSH: Should institutions do more to help? I mean, does UCSF do anything like
offer day care or anything like that, something that might help?
02:22:00PANNING: Again, it's difficult to [say]. How much is UCSF required, how much
should UCSF have to do, and why should I be treated differently from a graduate
student? So, UCSF has day care, but it's so expensive that with two children I
can't afford it. So, I have my children in a day care, but it's also a little
bit closer to my house and considerably less expensive, six hundred dollars a
month cheaper for my younger one. My older one is in public school now. So, it's
not--I don't know why I should benefit, where does the economic burden lie? And
I don't know. Should grad students be supported in having children? Should they
get free day care? At Berkeley they do. At UCSF they don't. Again, it's a really
tricky situation. How do you decide that? My husband and I earn a certain amount
02:23:00of money; therefore, we do get day care support at UCSF, and someone doesn't.
First of all, I don't think the money's even there in a state school to
PANNING: But if it was doable. I don't even know how you would fairly
proportionate it. It could be very tricky. So, maybe the fairest thing is just
to have everyone fend for themselves. [laughter] Yeah. It's tough these
social-management type things are very difficult. I don't know how they're best
administered without, for them, how they can best reach their goals.
DOMUSH: Have you had any . . . you said that you've had students who have
decided to go into other aspects of science away from bench work and it just so
happened that they were all women.
PANNING: Right. Of my, the eight students I've had, six are female and two are
male, so statistically speaking it was going to happen that way anyway.
DOMUSH: Right. Have you had any students, though, that have come to you and
02:24:00said, you know, you have two young children and you still seem to be doing a job
you love that you wanted to do, do you have any advice for me?
PANNING: So, I get hit up to be mentor for postdoc mentoring events, graduate
student mentoring events. I'm always brought forward as the one with two small
kids that runs a lab. And yes, I am constantly asked for advice. At this latest
meeting that I went--the chromatin transcription meetings, the FASEB
meeting--they even organized a women's tea where that was to bring together the
young female researchers or the graduate students and postdocs with the more
senior women to provide a forum in which you could get advice about, again, life
issues or whatever you wanted.
But it turned out most of the discussion was how do we balance? But the concern
02:25:00for the postdocs for the most part is how do you get two careers or how do we
balance sort of all the major transitions and survive? How do two people get
jobs together if you're both scientists? How then do you get a family started
when you're both trying to write NIH grants? Those are the issues.
DOMUSH: Do you enjoy going to those meetings and kind of being put forth as . .
. . I mean, I made the assumption that you know I see you and you seem
successful in doing these things. And you do have two children that you've
mentioned multiple times and you know that's . . .
PANNING: I'm sorry. Do I mention them that many times? [. . .]
DOMUSH: No, but you have mentioned them quite a bit, which is great. And so, I
assumed that people would come to you and in fact, that's true.
PANNING: It does happen.
DOMUSH: So do you, do you enjoy it?
PANNING: Do I enjoy it? I'm certainly happy to help out wherever I can. It's I
02:26:00think nice for people to feel like they have someone they can come and talk to.
DOMUSH: Did you have anyone that you could go and talk to or any . . . were
there any forums such as the ones you've mentioned?
PANNING: So, in my department and actually around UCSF there are not too many
women that have kids. So, there was certainly . . . when I had my first there
was not really anyone around my age that I could talk to that had children. Now
more of the young people in my department including one of the women that had
children, so there's more of a community, but then there wasn't.
DOMUSH: So, was it, when you did have your first child was it . . . did people
say anything? Did they respond in any sort of way?
PANNING: So, for the first six months I brought him to the office with me every
day. I brought him to every meeting. He came to all these lunchtime meetings
where people gave talks. He fell asleep. After everyone eats, you know the
02:27:00senior investigators kind of fall asleep. He fell asleep with them.
DOMUSH: He fit right in.
PANNING: He fit right in. It was great. I think I got . . . sometimes people
were taken aback or upset or not upset, I think maybe taken aback that a child
was appearing everywhere. I didn't breast-feed him in public that often. But for
the most part it was just accepted and that's the way it was. But I don't think
anyone would have known. If they felt it was inappropriate I don't even know if
they would know how to approach it with me, right. And since he was a pretty
well-behaved child and didn't disrupt anything. The graduate students had a ball
with him. And every year at this big retreat in Tahoe there's skits where they
make fun of faculty and of course, that year it was a woman walking around with
a baby in a baby carrier all the time. So, it was funny.
02:28:00DOMUSH: Since then have other . . . you said that there's another female faculty
member that has had a child. Did she bring her child to meetings and things like
that as well?
PANNING: She brought her child . . . didn't bring to quite as many meetings but
she certainly brought her child to work every day the first few months until a
nanny was arranged . . .
DOMUSH: Well, you certainly have a big enough office that that must have been
PANNING: Yeah, that was not a problem. Yeah. But when they get to be a little
bit older than the first two months, they start being more demanding of your
attention, so the fact the way I did it, there were probably three or four
months there, when I got nothing done until I could finally get them into a day
care. So, there are very few places where you can take infants under five months
old. So, effectively I don't know how women manage it who only get six weeks'
leave. There's just very few places that you can leave your child until four or
02:29:00five months when the first, when they'll start to take them.
DOMUSH: I have no idea. I've never . . . had never thought about that.
PANNING: Yeah. You don't think about it until you're pregnant and you're looking
into day care, right.
DOMUSH: So, you said though that you're . . . now your youngest child is in day
care relatively near your house.
DOMUSH: Is the commute that you have, or that your husband has as well . . . is
that a difficult commute? Does it take up much time?
PANNING: No. Remember I told you yesterday that one of the things I learned when
I worked in downtown Toronto is that I hate commuting.
PANNING: I took that to heart. And we made sure that we bought a house that was
less than a ten-minute drive--ten- to fifteen-minute drive. So, it's a bit of
detour for the day care, but it's not so horrible.
DOMUSH: Okay. So, now you said your older son . . . . I think you said he's five
PANNING: He's just started first grade on Monday.
DOMUSH: Oh, wow. How exciting.
PANNING: Very exciting.
DOMUSH: And you said when I mentioned the parafilm on the table the other day
02:30:00you said that you had gone, I guess, to his classroom to do some experiments.
PANNING: Kindergarten, yeah
DOMUSH: Is that something that you would like to repeat?
PANNING: And I will. So, this is, he's in public school in San Francisco,
[California], and the schools are good, especially if you have one where there's
a significant parental involvement. So, one of the things I do is I go in one
day a week and help out with what they call "centers." So, in the morning, one
morning a week I'm there from 7:50 a.m. when school starts till 9:30 a.m. And I
help out with some activity that the teacher organizes, which is usually either
art or poetry activity with a small group of children, when the children are
sort of rotated to the centers. So, every group, they'll be divided into groups.
Every group does something at the poetry center where I'll be at on one, do on
Monday with a different mom on, one will then do, Tuesday's a different mom. So,
we do centers. And then on top of that I do a science unit for the last quarter
02:31:00of the year. And I think I went in for five weeks and did--or six weeks--and did
scientific experiments with them.
DOMUSH: Oh wow, that sounds so exciting.
PANNING: It was lots of fun. It was great. It was great.
DOMUSH: Do you have any sense that . . . . I mean, you've gone in now to a
classroom. Did you do anything reaching out into the community like that you
know before your son was in school?
PANNING: So, what I did . . . UCSF has a lot of outreach to minority colleges. I
would go and give talks at minority institutions that had a strong minority
presence to be involved in the recruiting of minority people to UCSF graduate
school. So, I think that's what I did the most of. There wasn't . . . . I always
encourage the students in the lab to take part in the teaching . . .
DOMUSH: Right, you mentioned that.
PANNING: Science education program. But that's a big commitment. That is
02:32:00essentially five hours, the better part of a day, one day a week for ten to
fifteen weeks straight. And that's just not an option for my life right now.
DOMUSH: There's so much discussion in the media right now about the numbers of
students at various points in their academic career choosing to not pursue
science. And is it your feeling that, you know, scientists like yourself going
into a public school and doing scientific experiments even with kids who are in
kindergarten . . . you know, that very early on that that's what's going to get
kids to stay and keep going in science?
PANNING: I guess anything that engages children in learning will encourage them
to stay in school and encourage them to follow that area. So, I guess what I
02:33:00hope is that children that have some innate interest in science that that can be
fostered enough that they'll continue by having experiences like this. I don't
know if I'd ever turn someone who is clearly an artist into a scientist. But if
they, if the kernel is there I would hope that we can promote it so that it gets
a chance to grow and maybe get a little scientist out. Or, if it's . . . or some
will learn that this is what they don't want to do and I guess that's useful too.
DOMUSH: Do any of your colleagues, did any of them hear about your experience
about going into the kindergarten, and say that sounds really neat; I never
thought to go do something with kindergarteners?
PANNING: Honestly I never . . . . I haven't talked about it with my colleagues.
It wouldn't [. . .] it falls under the parenting [category]. So, the world is
divided into Mommy and work. And they don't really mix together too much. I'm
certain that when the colleagues I have that have younger children and their
02:34:00kids in public school this will be something, once they've experienced it this
will be something I'll discuss with them.
DOMUSH: Okay. [. . .] You said yesterday that since you've had children you've
not gone to as many meetings, you've kind of cut your lab size down a little
bit. So, now you have a six-year-old and I think you said you have a kid who's three--
DOMUSH: Do you think you're at a point where you can start going to some more meetings?
PANNING: Yeah. So, now they're old enough that I can leave them alone with my
husband and he's not completely overwhelmed. Two small children don't need me
quite as badly, right. It's just a lot easier now that . . . . I'd have to
explain that my three year old had some health issues that made life
02:35:00extraordinarily difficult for the first two-and-a-half years of his life, and
we're just coming through that now, and coming out where he's okay. Everyone's
life is just easier sort of all around.
PANNING: So that's been part of it, as well.
DOMUSH: Okay. But he's doing, he's better.
PANNING: He's doing fine. It was never anything life-threatening. Do you want to
DOMUSH: Sure. [. . .] If you want to talk about it.
PANNING: I don't know if the Pew people want to hear it. No, it was never
anything life-threatening. It was more incredibly inconvenient. It was
life-threatening in a way but not horribly . . . not imminently to worry about;
it just made it incredibly difficult for anyone to get any sleep for
DOMUSH: And now . . .
PANNING: Now we're through that.
DOMUSH: You can get some sleep.
PANNING: Now, we're through, now we can get sleep, and one person can handle the
two kids alone.
02:36:00DOMUSH: So, how much time in trying to balance being a mom, being a professor do
you find yourself bringing more work home or maybe not staying as long at the office?
PANNING: So, I have to be home in the evening for the kids. It's not an option.
So I have to leave here every night by 5:00 p.m. at the latest. So, what I do is
when I finally get my children to sleep I pick up my computer and usually begin
working unless I'm sick and so tired that I can't work anymore. Unfortunately,
that's usually not till 10:30 p.m. at night because the younger one gets a nap
at school every day, so it's not unusual for me to begin work at 10:30 p.m. and
work till 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. in the morning. So, many nights I will do that.
I'm usually so exhausted that I take a couple of nights off and start up again.
So, it just, I can be here from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and then I have to make
up for not doing a 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. job after.
02:37:00DOMUSH: Right, okay. We talked a little bit about funding and, you know, some
problems with NIH funding and how they can be so political or arbitrary, and I'm
curious, you know, you went through graduate school in Canada and your husband's
Canadian, but I don't know if he also went to graduate school in Canada.
PANNING: He didn't. He went to graduate school in Britain.
DOMUSH: Do you guys have . . . since you have kind of this international outlook
on science, do you have friends who are research scientists in other places in
the world that maybe you get an insight into what funding is like in other places?
PANNING: We certainly have friends in Canada and Britain and I mean it's not
great anywhere is what it comes down to. It's always there's never enough to go
around. And I don't think things are contracting as quickly in other countries
02:38:00as they are in the United States. It doesn't seem quite as bad there, but it's
not great. And there's certainly not as much money, so. The United States went
through--the NIH--went through a nearly a doubling and there's a lot more money.
And a lot of buildings, like this one, were built. A lot of people were hired.
And then it started contracting pretty rapidly, too, and much of what was done
on speculation [occurred] on the assumption that NIH's growth would at least,
even if it didn't continue to double, it would at least stay the same.
In other countries, that didn't happen. And then the amount of money given out
for a single Canadian grant doesn't, it doesn't compare to what an NIH grant
does. So, it's just a completely different, there's not the shell shock in
Canada and in Britain because you never went through strategic expansion and
people just never had so much money in the first place. So, there's always been
02:39:00the complaint that there's not enough. But I think in America it's just worse
because . . .
DOMUSH: There was enough.
PANNING: There was. There was certainly more. I don't know if any, actually,
when there was more, I don't think that people thought there was enough. But
there was certainly more. And I think the problem then is that at the time when
there was more there was a lot of expansion going on under the assumption that
there always would be more. And that's now, we have institutes that are empty
like it's there are places that I've gone to give talks where one person in the
department has funding. It's really . . . . I can't describe how awful it is.
It's really bad.
DOMUSH: Do you know professors that have had to find something else to do
because they just can't get funding?
PANNING: I even know a Pew Scholar who gave up science.
DOMUSH: Oh, wow.
PANNING: She was in my class. She was in the class in behind mine. So, yeah. It
hits all. It's just more often than not, what's happening now is it's almost
02:40:00forced attrition at the retirement, at the older . . . many older people or
older researchers are not getting granting and deciding then at sixty-five or
seventy, yeah, I've had enough, just retire.
DOMUSH: But there's no need to keep resubmitting grants when you're . . .
DOMUSH: Is it particularly hard hitting for new faculty or is it kind of middle
. . . ?
PANNING: I think it's really hard. It's pretty much bad everywhere. I mean when
you're looking at cuts of 5 percent, you're hitting across the board. But it can
be harder to get that first grant and it can be harder when . . . sort of,
anytime. It's just hard. It's, yeah, so I think that's intimidating. Many people
are staying in postdocs longer in hopes of getting a job when this all ends. You
know, the hope is that the whirlwind and more money will fund to the NIH or
changing, a change in government may change the NIH funding. So, it's not clear
to me that that change in government will necessarily happen and if it does, how
02:41:00much money will actually be free and available to the NIH. Or how many years
will more funds go into the NIH, take to turn things around, but, in fact,
that's my advice to people right now who are in postdocs just stay as long as
you can. Wait until this passes.
DOMUSH: When you talk to some of your friends or colleagues in Britain or Canada
it didn't really sound like a situation though where kind of the grass is
greener on the other side. But is there ever any temptation to say well, maybe
if we go back to Canada it'll be easier?
PANNING: The only thing that would make going back to Canada, the only thing
that would be easier about going back to Canada is I would have a lot of family
support. If we went to the right spot in Canada, which would have helped two or
three years ago, but I don't know if that would help so much now.
The other thing that would bring me back . . . so, it wouldn't be scientific
02:42:00concerns, the kind of thing that would send me back is or take me back is family
health issues. So, for instance my father has prostate cancer right now. I've
been spending a considerable amount of time on the phone, going back to Toronto
to be involved in the treatment. That would be much easier if I was there
instead of here.
DOMUSH: Right. Is most of your family then in Toronto?
PANNING: My immediate family--my brother, and sister, and my parents. [. . .]
DOMUSH: In talking a little bit more about funding and kind of the international
whatnot, you said that your husband went to graduate school in Britain and did
his first postdoc in Switzerland.
DOMUSH: And even though you came to the United States for your postdoc when you
guys were looking for jobs or thinking about looking for jobs outside of the
02:43:00Boston area, at that time were you considering going really you know you said
that you kind of looked in some larger cities like London or Cambridge?
PANNING: When I was looking for postdocs.
DOMUSH: Okay, I'm sorry.
DOMUSH: Would you have considered at that time do you think looking for faculty
positions maybe in Europe?
PANNING: So, by the time I was looking for faculty positions I was looking at
areas that had good biotechs and so that my husband would be able to get a job.
And I honestly didn't know enough about biotech in Britain or Europe, but I had
the feeling that it just, there wasn't quite as much there. So, it would have
been difficult. So, in the end, I'm sure if we, if I had been unable to get a
job on the first pass which was not . . .
DOMUSH: Not the case.
PANNING: Well, not that it was not the case, it wasn't even, it wasn't even a
02:44:00real search. I knew I had a job and I was just looking at, none of these things
really came into play. I imagine they could if turned out differently, but it didn't.
DOMUSH: Do you have students or postdocs in your group that are from kind of a
more international academic community than just the United States?
PANNING: I had a Canadian postdoc and she's now editor at Cell, but everyone
else has been U.S., now that I think of it. The graduate students are all U.S.
citizens, and the postdocs are--oh, [inaudible] is Chinese, but she's a
permanent resident as well, so.
DOMUSH: I was just curious. I actually heard someone else in the hallway, when I
was standing in the hallway, saying how they were about to start a job in, I
think Montreal. And I was just curious if anyone came to you and said, you know,
02:45:00you have this, scientific experiences other places, is science different in
these other places? [. . .] Or maybe that's a question that's just, you know, is
science different in Seattle, [Washington] as opposed to Europe?
PANNING: Yeah. So, there's, so the day-to-day doing the experiments I imagine is
the same just about anywhere. But the experience is probably different depending
on who you're surrounded by, what you have access to that all makes it a very,
you know - I can imagine being quite frustrated if you don't have a piece of
equipment or even access to a piece of equipment to do what you need to do. And
there may be different levels of prestige in different countries associated with
being a scientist.
DOMUSH: Issues of having instrumentation that's . . . . I mean you could go many
places in the United States and not have a community or not have the instruments.
PANNING: Right. Well, I was thinking for instance, one of the things that the
02:46:00Pew organizes is old pieces of equipment that we can't use anymore or graciously
and gratefully accepted in South America and we send them down there. So, if
you're trying to establish a lab in South America, which is one of the things
Pew is trying to promote science in Latin America having stuff that we discarded
is a big plus. So, it's a completely different sort of level way of doing it,
way of doing science because you can't do some of the things that people would
be doing here. You just simply don't have the instrumentation. And, for
instance, there's some things that are published in top-tier journals simply
because they used the latest technology or the best instrumentation, right, and
you'll never compete in that. It's like a portion of what you can do is cut off
DOMUSH: Have you sent anything? Have you been able to send anything to South
02:47:00America or anyone in the department maybe that has?
PANNING: Yeah. I think a lot of stuff has gone from UCSF. The way that it works
in my particular group is I didn't . . . when I joined I had people surrounding
me that had everything, so I didn't have to buy anything, so it's not really
anything to pass on. But when stuff becomes available and let them know.
DOMUSH: Wow. I've never heard anyone mention that. That sounds very interesting.
And there must be so much kind of logistical networking information that's
involved in transporting these huge pieces of instrumentation.
PANNING: And the Pew takes care of it. I don't know how many of them have been
huge because a lot of the stuff we do is small. The instruments aren't always
enormous. A lot of them are quite small, relatively easy. They're still big
enough, but they're bigger than a bread box, but not as big as a refrigerator.
[laughter] So, yes, there is some effort involved but nothing that FedEx can't do.
02:48:00DOMUSH: Well, good to know. You mentioned just now that there are scientific
publications that get into top-tier journals simply because they have the newest
instrumentation and not everyone has that yet, and so they seem far ahead. I'm
curious about kind of publishing and the publishing processing yesterday we
mentioned a little bit about this paper you submitted to Genes and Development.
And I'm wondering if you think in the same way for funding that you have to
resubmit multiple times for an NIH grant if there's a similar process going on
in publishing right now that you're having to resubmit or choose other journals?
PANNING: I think we've been pretty lucky because we generally have gone to one,
maybe two, journals. So, depending on where you're going. If you're aiming at
02:49:00the very top-tier journals which I consider Science, Nature, and Cell there's a
crapshoot. It really is a crapshoot every time. You don't know that you'll get
the right alignment of three good reviewers to get a paper that might deserve to
be or at least be competitive for one of those journals. And you're rolling the
dice every time you take it from one to the other.
But when you go down to the less competitive, less tabloid maybe journals which
is one way of thinking of it, then my experience has generally been that [. . .]
it will go for review. You get comments. Every reviewer feels like . . .
reviewers fall into different categories. There are reviewers that read your
manuscript and say the data are interesting, the conclusions you draw from the
data substantiate the data and it's a reasonable article and is or isn't
appropriate for this journal. And then there are the reviewers that feel like
02:50:00they have to make their special stamp on your story. [laughter] And that what
they will always request at least one experiment or something. And if you're
lucky you get more of the former, but in fact, it's my experience, having the
experience of talking to people, is that the sort of standard is the latter.
They'll always ask for something. So, invariably your paper's rejected. But it's
the kind of rejection they say if you can deal with these reviewers' issues,
we'd be happy to see it again.
And sort of I'm of the first reviewer set. I really feel like someone has
written a paper and if the data substantiate the conclusions they draw and if
the paper's interesting then I don't need to ask for more experiments to make it
interesting or make it relevant for the journal, right. If it's a good match,
02:51:00then it's fine. So, I get very frustrated in dealing with the people who want to
put their own special touch on it or ask for essentially a pile of experiments
that end up in supplemental [data] and turn your supplemental data into an
eighteen-piece add-on that doesn't really say anything that substantively change
the original manuscript they put out.
DOMUSH: Right. I think from looking at your CV that you've published in Public
Library of Science as well as the not-open-access journals. And from talking
with other people in the Bay Area, I've been told that the Bay Area in
particular is biased in some ways in favor of Public Library of Science and the
02:52:00open-access journals. And I'm wondering about how you decide if you're going to
submit something to--
PANNING: An open-access journal versus a not-open-access journal. So, the
decisions about where to submit manuscripts are done in collaboration with the
people who are on the manuscript. And the graduate student or postdoc will have
very different feelings about where the journal goes. [. . .] So the paper that
went to Genes & Development, we probably could have sent it someplace a little
bit better. But the graduate student and postdoc who worked on it, the postdoc
who has a job in Cell and she's working as a manager, and the graduate student
wants to go into editing, it really doesn't matter to their CVs where it goes.
So, they decided to send it to there.
There's other people where they want a shot at the top journal, and if I think
02:53:00that the paper is a reasonable fit for that journal, I'll send it there. And
there's other people I can convince that open access is the way to go because it
just seems like the appropriate thing to do. So, everyone and because it's not
just my career riding on this, it's the career of the person, people, authors on
that paper, I take their feelings into consideration as well. If I had my way,
I'd probably send a lot of, just about everything, to an open-access journal.
But you know, PLoS Biology and PLoS Genetics have--they're hard to get into now.
They're . . . so sometimes you send it not there because you don't know that you
get in to there. [laughter]
DOMUSH: You just said that if you had it kind of your way you would send
everything to an open-access journal, and is that just because science should be
DOMUSH: That these should be available.
02:54:00PANNING: Exactly. It's, right. These are, how are we going to disseminate ideas
if only the people who can afford the three-hundred-dollar subscription to Cell
can read them?
DOMUSH: Do you have any students that . . . you know, students or postdocs who
feel really strongly that maybe I have a paper that could be submitted somewhere
else, but I only want it submitted in an open-access journal?
PANNING: No. It's always the other way around.
DOMUSH: Okay. Is it a prestige [issue]?
PANNING: Absolutely. So, especially there's some places . . . in Europe I know
of some institutes, but I suspect it's the same in the States where you or when
they're considering hiring you, there's an actual equation where one Science
paper gets you ten points. And a Nature paper gets you ten points. And a Cell
paper gets you ten points. But, a paper in a lower journal doesn't give you any
points and they decide who to interview on the basis or largely on the basis of
where you published.
02:55:00DOMUSH: And it's really an equation?
PANNING: It's really an equation, yeah. So, getting a publication in a top-tier
journal can make it or break it for postdocs when it comes time to look for a
DOMUSH: Is there room . . . . I mean, Public Library of Science is a relatively
new publication compared to so many of the other journals. Is there room for it
to gain prestige or gain that . . . ?
PANNING: I mean it's already gained prestige. It already went up. So, I don't
know if it's ever going to get to what the Science and Nature are. So, Science
and Nature are basically tabloids. The people who read them . . . the science is
important, but there's science news in there. So, there [is a] journalistic
aspect of them that something that publishes, sure Science just a basic research
02:56:00paper doesn't really have, and I suspect that may stop it from getting quite as
prestigious. But it's certainly getting [there] It's amongst the top journals in
biology you get today, so. I think it's certainly doing just fine. The model has worked.
DOMUSH: But maybe the equation that that type of equation of Science equally ten
points and Nature equally ten points that maybe that's what's flawed.
PANNING: I would say that that's certainly flawed. That some people, very
talented people who do good work that's in really solid journals, but just they
didn't have the dumb luck, forces didn't align the right way when they submitted
it to Science And they didn't get the three reviewers that they needed, that
that's just, that just happened. There's nothing, especially in this environment
02:57:00where everyone--the review process is almost adversarial, right.
DOMUSH: When you call it adversarial is it as political as the way you described
NIH funding where someone can just say, "You know, this may be good science, but
I just disagree kind of fundamentally with it?"
PANNING: No. So, what will kill you in a review is, the paper's fine. The
science is fine. It's just not interesting enough for this journal. And you
can't fight that. So, you have to, so, when you're trying to get into these
journals you have to make a case that what you've done is in fact interesting
and new and innovative enough. And some stuff clearly is, but you're competing
with so many people who are also doing stuff that's new and innovative and why
would yours get one of the ten coveted positions this week in this journal? All
it takes is one person to say it's very good, but it's not that interesting or .
DOMUSH: Not for here.
02:58:00PANNING: Not for here. And it's virtually impossible to fight that. So, you
really need to get at least two people expressing strong enthusiasm for your
manuscript to get it in. And different people have different agendas, especially
when you do research that [. . .] crosses more than one area. So, if you do
something that brings two fields together, you'll often get reviewers from Field
A or Field B and they have very different agendas. They look at it differently.
They have completely different sets of experiments they would like to see done.
They have different focuses they'd like to put a manuscript. And it can be very
difficult to balance those two together to produce a product that they're both
interested in, that both groups think is interesting.
DOMUSH: Is it sometimes a terminology issue? I mean, I would imagine that if
02:59:00you're involved in the scientific field, it's got crossing between Field A and
Field B or Discipline A and Discipline B, that a lot of times the terminology
and the way you phrase things is slightly different?
PANNING: I think that because . . .
DOMUSH: And I don't know if that plays into how that the article is written.
PANNING: I think that can certainly play into it. But I think things are just .
. . maybe it's easiest if I give an example of what we're doing right now. So,
we found that splicing of this particular RNA is playing a role in regulation of
which chromosome will be active and which one will be inactive. So, there's
splicing regulation. And we identified a splicing factor that binds that RNA.
So, now this paper is interesting, that we're just sending out to, have just
sent out to Genes and Development, is interesting to the X-inactivation
community, the people that think about what's going on to allow one X to be
active and one to be inactive. But it's now interesting to the splicing
community, particularly the people that are interested in this particular
03:00:00splicing factor. The kind of experiments that the splicing community does is
move the RNA that binds the splicing factor into different genes, and show it
still works as a splicing regulator. The kinds of experiments that
X-inactivation people do are delete it, mutate it, look to see what effect it
has. They're completely different mindsets, completely different kinds of
experiments. And one reviewer I know will tell us to do one set of things. The
other set of reviewers will tell us to do the other set of things. It's like
they'll look at the paper with completely different world views and then try to
produce something that's interesting enough for both of them.
DOMUSH: It's like walking a tightrope.
PANNING: Right, exactly. It's like basically getting enough data in there that
both will be made happy. So, another option would be just to separate them all
out. But then you don't . . . it doesn't work either because the conclusions and
03:01:00the discussions and the new ideas you want to raise require that both pieces of
data be together. One idea would be to publish one first on its own. But then
that would have to be a splicing paper. And I don't, no one in my lab wants to
do a bona fide splicing paper, right. So, it's kind of a, so no one in my lab
wants to do a bona fide splicing paper and doesn't want to go through all the
hoops, hurdles, and [more] hoops that people would ordinarily do if we were a
hardcore splicing lab to put this paper out. Because we don't think that's so interesting.
DOMUSH: So, what happens if . . . . I mean, if you have a reviewer from the
splicing community and a reviewer from the X-inactivation community and they do
have these very opposing viewpoints, is it then up to the third reviewer to . .
PANNING: The third reviewer could be from either community and put things . . .
mix things either way. If you have a talented editor, she'll see that . . .
03:02:00she'll see. It really . . . that there could be another splicer and then they
could require lots of splicing experiments. And what we would do is do a ton of
the splicing experiments and resubmit it. and hope and then try and address both
sets of reviewers' issues. It's really again, it depends on the reviewers. You
just don't know what will be asked of you. But normally if something is asked of
you, you do it and you resubmit. That's kind of the [system]. But you can just
never predict in advance what will be asked of you. And if what you packaged
together, you've done a good enough job that it'll appease . . . the
X-inactivation part is sufficient to appease, making the splicing people
interested and the splicing aspect of it . . . you just don't know.
DOMUSH: Well, especially in something . . . in the way you describe it, if you
tried to separate them it wouldn't necessarily be a complete story.
03:03:00PANNING: Right. It wouldn't fall together the way.
DOMUSH: Right. It wouldn't necessarily be as interesting. Since so much about
publishing sounds so arbitrary, you know, [it is] totally dependent on who your
reviewer is or kind of what they might ask of you that day, and then so much of
funding is dependent on have you published this preliminary data--is it better
from your perspective to just try and get a paper out? You know, do what they
recommend, not necessarily write a rebuttal and say, no, I think that this is a
complete research story and just try and get that out there so that when you do
submit your next grant it's there.
03:04:00PANNING: Published paper. By the time you've gone through one round of review,
if the experiments they require are not unreasonable and not terribly
time-consuming, it's far faster to do them then send it back. Even on occasion,
I've had manuscripts that haven't gone back to review again. We've done the
experiments they requested, written a cover letter saying we've done them,
addressed whatever issues we could without experiments and the text changes
requested and resubmitted it and two days later, I've got an acceptance letter.
So, it really depends on other times that there's more experiments; then you
have to kind of gauge the interest of the editor, and if it looks like they
basically say that we can accept this now if you do the experiments that justify
the reviewers we'd be very interested. So, then you know that as long as you do
what they say, what the reviewers requested, if it's doable, you'll get it in.
So, again, every instance is different. There's other times you just . . .
03:05:00there's no way we're going to be able to turn into a paper that will convince
this reviewer, so then what you do is you take that as a learning experience and
make changes. If it was a misunderstanding or if it was, you can proactively
deal with the issues that the reviewer has when you send it to another journal.
But basically, if you've gotten a review once at one journal, the fastest way of
getting it in is probably just to stick with that journal, depending on how much
is required. If an enormous amount of work is required then just drop it a
couple of tiers, and if the same reviewer sees it he or she will say well, it's
fine for this journal, but I wouldn't have let it into [the higher tier journal].
DOMUSH: Have you ever had an experience where you get reviews back where their
suggestions are actually really helpful? They're not just kind of time-consuming.
PANNING: Yes. I certainly had suggestions that were . . . yes, that were
03:06:00helpful. And it's more often than not they're just time-consuming, but we've had
helpful ones, ones that I think changed the paper, made it better. In no
instance has it completely undermined what our initial model, what we thought
was going on that had made it . . .
DOMUSH: But strengthened it maybe.
PANNING: A little bit stronger. Yeah.
DOMUSH: Okay. Sorry. I lost my train of thought again. Just completely changing
subjects, we touched very briefly on the idea of students either choosing to go
into science or choosing to not go into science. We were discussing the outreach
work that you do at your son's school. And what I wanted to ask you about was if
you have any sense for kind of the public perception of science? Just kind of,
03:07:00not necessarily someone with any scientific background, but just the average
person out on the street and that they might not necessarily understand what you
do or understand what the outcry amongst scientists is about the funding
situation, and if it's worth it as a scientist to do something to help that
PANNING: So, one on one I'm certainly happy to explain why I think scientific
research is important to the United States and to the world at large. I hope
that I can make someone understand that. Sort of in a bigger picture, do I think
we need a science ambassador? Carl Sagan was an example of someone who brought
science to many people and made them think it was quite interesting, and I think
also helped people understand the significance of it. I think in Canada, there's
03:08:00a guy who does an equivalent of a PBS [Public Broadcasting System] show, whose
name escapes me right now.
DOMUSH: [David] Suzuki?
PANNING: David Suzuki. I think every Canadian knows David Suzuki, and they love
his science shows and he branches . . . he's a biochemist at the University of
BC [British Columbia], but he doesn't have research anymore. His life is
completely, basically, I think, as a science ambassador and doing shows and, you
know, basically keeping . . . bringing different aspects of science into public
awareness. Like, there's no one like that in the United States that I can think
of. We could desperately use somebody, and it would be nice to have someone
charismatic and interesting to fill that role, but I have no idea how you would
go about doing it. And I don't know if many of the scientific organizations in
the United States are more focused on kind of lobbying; certainly the National
03:09:00Academy of Sciences is essentially a lobbying group. Is there a better, more
clever way of doing this by making science more popular, less scary to people,
trying to uncouple the religious concerns, the concerns of many religious people
about the stem cell research that's going on today, I don't know. I think it
would be great if we could find a scientist who was charismatic enough and who
could explain themselves, explain science well enough to most people that they
were less afraid of it, intimidated by it, and could see the importance of it.
DOMUSH: I guess in thinking about kind of the role of science ambassador. You
know, you're very busy and you're not going to take that on right now. I mean
you know it's wonderful to go into your son's school, but you are not going to .
PANNING: It would have to be a full-time job. It would be very appropriate to
03:10:00begin to train people for this job. And I don't know if working . . . so I think
we need the credibility of someone who's actually a working scientist. But it
needs a working scientist who can take the time. What was his name? [Kenneth R.
Miller] The man who really fought the Roman Catholic [viewpoint] and is a
professor at Brown University who does basic research and who wrote books kind
of debunking, [. . .] scientific creationism, remember that was all the rage a
few years ago.
DOMUSH: Yes. I'm not going to be able to think of his name either. We'll come up
with it later.
PANNING: He actually spoke, I think, at a Pew meeting one of the years I was at
a Pew . . .
DOMUSH: Right. And I've heard a couple of the other Scholars mention it, but I'm
not going to be able to think of it right now.
PANNING: His name escapes me right now, but he was kind of briefly there. I
03:11:00think it never really took off, and I don't know, I guess the problem is how do
you even, where do you even put such a person? Do they appear on Good Morning,
America once a week with some interesting science? I just, PBS they have science
programs, but it's not, maybe what we need is someone on some incredibly popular
show like Oprah. Shows I don't even watch because I don't have time. [laughter]
DOMUSH: There, you know there are so many senior professors that maybe their
labs are kind of winding down.
PANNING: Might be appropriate for something like that. Or maybe, someone young
and dynamic would be appropriate as well.
DOMUSH: It would have to be someone dynamic, have to be someone that appealed to
a general audience. You brought up this issue of kind of stem cells and
03:12:00religion. And do you ever worry that . . . now I have no idea balancing two very
busy jobs that you have, how much news you get to listen to . . . but do you
ever worry that perhaps the media is creating some sort of controversy where
maybe if there wasn't a need to create a new news story every minute because
there's twenty-four hour news, that maybe not as many people would really be
that concerned about an issue? So, I think about evolution debates in schools,
and maybe it's not that much of an issue and the media just needs something to
talk about, and then it seems like a really big issue.
PANNING: Because they're . . . right.
DOMUSH: You know, or another example is there have been a lot of articles that
03:13:00I've read recently about global warming debates in the media. And about the
media's effort to be showing both sides of the story, perhaps some media outlets
show the other side too much. That there's a minority of scientists that don't
think global warming exists and . . .
PANNING: Or they don't think AIDS is caused by HIV and those gets as much air
playing as much . . .
DOMUSH: I mean, is the media to blame then for some of this kind of anti-science feeling?
PANNING: I don't [know] or are individuals to blame because they don't seek,
they don't critically observe the media and think about . . . there's a lot more
than the media. There's the blogs. There's the web. You can go to any and you
need to critically evaluate what you've been told. And that involves figuring
03:14:00out what consensus is and whether this one person who happened to be on FOX News
is an outlier or not, I don't know. I would say it's difficult because it's up
to the individual to learn as much as they possibly can and how much time do you
have to actually learn. Maybe some selectivity into your media outlet is
appropriate. But other than to imperil the time . . . and maybe I'm making the
wrong choice too.
DOMUSH: Do you think it's also an issue of . . . . I mean, no matter what if
someone's listening to news there's going to be some type of bias even if AIDS
and HIV or global warming, even if we're presented both sides of the story,
those both sides might not necessarily be equal sides. So, if it's up to the
person to make some sort of educated decision about what they've heard, does
03:15:00that then assume that that person's had some sort of scientific education?
PANNING: That they will take the time to educate themselves or that they're in a
position that's . . . that may not be a fair assumption.
DOMUSH: Not everyone understands the scientific process or even that the
scientific process is about progress. You know you were talking yesterday about
this forty-year-old model of X-inactivation, and while I would bet that the
average person on the street doesn't have any idea what that is, this idea of a
fact in forty years . . .
PANNING: Can change.
DOMUSH: Can change, you know that's not what people think facts are.
PANNING: It's difficult to process. So, I guess we're back to that charismatic
individual who can explain that to people and explain that science is like real
03:16:00life. Things change as you get new information. Your perceptions or your ideas
change. Basically, it always goes back to explaining why what we're discovering
is important for their day-to-day lives, as well as the functioning of the country.
DOMUSH: You said yesterday that when you were going through university and
graduate school that your parents just really didn't . . . they didn't get it.
DOMUSH: Have you had any luck of being able to explain to them better what you do?
PANNING: So, they're interested enough in the research and like it when I take
the time to explain it to them. They just don't know why. And they're much
happier now that I have children and married, right. So, now they can tolerate
it because the stuff that was important to them is out. So, now I think they're,
but I think they were very confused for a long time. So, my dad loves reading
03:17:00popular science books and magazines, and he always questions me about what's
going on. I'm in the school, my son's school all the time, and people talk about
what you do, and they want to know what I'm researching. So, I've gotten quite
good at explaining it in a way that someone without an enormous amount of
scientific background can understand, and it still makes it seem interesting.
And more scientists need to be able to do that. I think in many grants nowadays
they ask for a lay person's statement, but that still turns out to be filled
with scientific gobbledy-gook because you just can't imagine when you're writing
a lay person's statement that you're actually talking to some guy you meet on
the street and try to explain what you do.
DOMUSH: Right. They're not bringing in lay people into NIH to judge your grant.
Do you ever bring up with your students this idea of it being important for them
03:18:00to be able to explain what they do? You know, kind of at a dinner party, if
someone says what are you doing? You know, I can tell you from my own
experience--many of my friends are chemistry PhDs--people look at them, and
their eyes glaze over and say oh, and then they kind of walk away. [laughter]
PANNING: Yeah. You have to make it make sense in the context of someone's real
life, which I don't know if it's harder with chemistry. Do I ever advise my
graduate students that that's important? I can't say that I ever have. I talk to
them about having done it with other people, so if anything they may learn by
example. There's enough people here . . . there's enough of a science education
. . . it's part of the culture. So, it's maybe not something that you need to
explicitly discuss. Also, a lot of the graduate students go on to science
writing courses. They're involved in science outreach. That's one of the things
03:19:00that the graduate students do, if they don't want to do basic research, it's
pretty common here.
DOMUSH: I guess I'm wondering if you bring it up with your students because you
had said you had students that have gone into editing and writing. But I'm
wondering if that person, that science ambassador is just sitting in a lab
somewhere and doesn't even know . . .
PANNING: Doesn't even know.
DOMUSH: Doesn't even know that . . . doesn't even realize because they're so
involved that that's something that's needed.
PANNING: Right. I wonder if, even if the scientific community, I'm sure if you
brought it up there would be an acknowledgment that it's needed. What I think
isn't certain is how to manufacture the opportunity; how to do it. So we
certainly--we have the systems that we work well in, like the National Academy
of Sciences and the Federation of Scientific and Experimental Biologists and all
03:20:00sorts of these groups. But how do you get the talented and charismatic
individuals from those groups to talk to non- . . . to talk, right, what's the
right forum? Should we get interviewed on NPR [National Public Radio] when we
publish something that's reasonably hot? And sort of you get your fifteen
minutes. What we almost need is someone who . . . it's not just fifteen minutes,
it's a lifetime endeavor, and they need to be in an essentially high-profile
position that people sort of know who they are and what they're trying to
accomplish. I guess, in the example of Canada it worked because it's a small
country and because the Canadian content of what's on television stations
probably everyone watches David Suzuki. About 30 or 40 percent of the population
watch David Suzuki. I don't know if that's . . . if you could engineer something
03:21:00like that in the States. You would need someone for FOX. As well as someone for,
right, I'd . . .
DOMUSH: Well, one person that I was talking to made the interesting point that
you know when Carl Sagan was on PBS [Public Broadcasting System] there were
fewer channels. You know there are . . . . I flip through channels at home. It
takes a while. There are a lot of channels. And there's a lot of options for
people to say why would I watch this right now?
PANNING: Why would I watch this? Which is why I think it might need to go over
something like Good Morning, America. You know, something that is done in
five-minute bits that are palatable.
DOMUSH: In your opinion, you know, there's a lot of scientific endeavor that
makes a five-minute news clip here or there, but they're not necessarily the
basic science things. So, a lot of pharmaceutical research that went wrong. It's
03:22:00news. So, you hear constantly about the Vioxx law cases and you hear if someone
thinks that they have a possible vaccine for diseases A, B, or C. Would it help
kind of the general public if instead of those aspects of science maybe people
were talking about really basic research, you know, kind of the publications
that go . . . ?
PANNING: When they solved Fermat's Last Theorem, that was all over the news. It
was a basic mathematical postulate that had been around for a long time and no
one had been able to solve. So, there was the novelty of it. But no one actually
explained the details of the solution to anyone, but people were interested and
excited in it. So, you're right, if it could be other scientific--basic
scientific--achievements could be turned around into something that seems
03:23:00interesting. But I guess the general interest here was something, a problem that
had been around for a while that no one had solved. That applies every day to
what scientists do.
DOMUSH: Right. And then maybe more people would understand why things take so
long, why it needs so much funding. Or what it is if they understand that all of
these really major breakthroughs that kind of do you get the five-minutes in the
news. But for all of that there's so much day-to-day work.
PANNING: I think the other thing is the NIH budget, of the United States budget
is nothing, really. We're not throwing . . . we're not putting that much money
into it, and even if we doubled it we wouldn't be putting that much money into
it, so there's . . . . I don't know if there's the general understanding about
it, as well. It could be, I mean for most people that's not, it's not an issue.
It's not. I don't think people perceive that we're spending a lot of money on
03:24:00research. I think you're right there is a perception that it's moving too
slowly. Richard [M.] Nixon said we would cure cancer in the next five years, and
we haven't yet. People are still dying of cancer. Why? If we can find someone to
explain to people that cancer is not one disease it's a pretty complicated one,
and we have made some pretty major breakthroughs. Also, it's sort of the
time-scale of understanding it, developing the drugs, getting them to market is
about twenty-five years. And we are now beginning to see stuff bearing the
fruits of research that was started twenty-five years ago. I don't know how many
people really understand that.
DOMUSH: I mean, because of a background in chemistry, I've been able to explain
to some of my friends when they've expressed dismay again things like Vioxx
lawsuits and things. And they say well, don't do they do testing? And I said
well, of course they do testing. You can't, you know, you can't keep a drug in
03:25:00clinical trials for twenty-five years. You know, there's no money and there's
too much demand for it. And then they kind of think about it and say well, no,
you can't. And there's always going to be something. Hopefully it's not
PANNING: All the estrogens for women going through menopause. Who knew that they
would cause heart disease or increase your chance of having cancer? But they
provided a lot of relief for many women for many years. And I'm sure some
wouldn't give it up even though it increased their risks of heart attack.
Sometimes you just need to know. I know people who . . . Vioxx--if they could
get it today they still would.
DOMUSH: They still would, yeah. So, maybe it's just that we really need to find
the science ambassador.
PANNING: I think we need to find a science ambassador, and we need to find a
forum for the science ambassador to speak in. And the ambassador could also be
03:26:00talking to the government or talking to the people. So, there is no one talking
to the people. There are potentially science ambassadors talking to the
government; the effectiveness of that varies from government to government. And
so, I wonder if the most effective thing would be to talk to the people and
there's a groundswell of support amongst the people and assist.
DOMUSH: Do you have any sense of whether or not some of these debates about
science and religion or kind of what science should be done? So much of the
public seems to think that stem cell research should no longer be conducted even
though they might not really understand anything about it, and then maybe the
government goes and restricts more aspects of that. Do you have a sense if--from
friends in Canada or Britain--that there's a similar kind of disconnect between
03:27:00the public perception of science or the public having an influence on what
science has done?
PANNING: They just think we're nuts. [laughter] I mean, I think that summarizes
it. They think there's a perception of this, and I think that Americans being
self-centered and not terribly educated that unfortunately recent political
developments tend to . . .
DOMUSH: Nothing has changed their mind about that.
PANNING: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you know from simple things like understanding
geography . . . countries outside the United States. The perception of the
average American couldn't name the capital of Mexico, much less point it out on
a map. So, it's all part and parcel of the same thing. So, that would be my
03:28:00call. And they think it's funny.
I had one meeting I went to was in, it was the every decade X-inactivation
meeting and it was in the Institute Curie--so, it was in Paris [France]. And
they had their closing gala in the library, the Museum of Natural History. And
in this beautiful big hall where they showed evolution of like so many different
organisms--you know, the big stuffed animals, but showing the sort of
development. There was no doubt, right, that evolution happened. It wasn't even
brought up. And there were people there just, ha-ha, the United States. So you
guys think that you all just came out of nowhere, you know.
DOMUSH: It was kind of a laughingstock in some ways.
03:29:00PANNING: It's seemed like a laughingstock, right, that a good portion of the
population felt this way, and there's not really anything you can do about it
except try and reach that portion of our population and make them realize that
their beliefs are not necessarily at odds with what science tells us.
DOMUSH: Right. Okay. Well, going again kind of switching topics, the Pew
Biomedical Scholars Program is a biomedical program. And I'm just curious if you
have a definition for biomedicine?
PANNING: Do I have . . . . I've never thought of it deeply but I would say any
biology at all, any biological or chemistry . . . anything that can be applied
03:30:00directly or indirectly to medicine and so, very broad.
DOMUSH: Okay. Great. Well and that's something, I think that's how Pew sees it.
One of the last things that I want to ask you about, of course, unless you have
anything further that you want to add, is where you would like to see your lab's
research going in the next handful of years. And I know that depends on a lot of
things; I'm sure funding is obviously one of them, but if you could just look at
the research and kind of where the research is going and where you want it to go.
PANNING: Where do I want it to go?
DOMUSH: Or, where do you think it may lead you?
PANNING: So, very specific or big.
DOMUSH: Either way, you can be specific. You can be big. You can do both.
PANNING: I guess I would hope that we have a better understanding of the kinds
03:31:00of things I talked about yesterday. The things that we don't even have handles
for, that we don't even have any molecules or proteins or RNAs or anything
involved in yet, I would like . . . . I would hope that we made some steps
forward and getting handles or use the handles that we found recently to
actually make some steps forward into understanding mechanisms.
DOMUSH: Specifically, though.
PANNING: Like very specifically.
DOMUSH: You can be as specific as you want.
PANNING: I mean, I would hope that we understand how the two X chromosomes talk
to each other, so that they can make these random and mutually exclusive, random
decisions and get mutual exclusive bates. And I would hope we understand how the
non-coding RNA plays a role in that is also, simultaneously, then used and
silences the chromosome. So, what's the connection between the silencing and the
chromosomes talking to each other? The activity, the silencing activity of this
03:32:00RNA, what is actually shutting the chromosome off, how is that same activity
being used to . . . involved in making these random choices and establishing
And that's part of the bigger field of understanding what non-coding RNA are
doing, which an emerging field right now. And we're getting a lot more genomic
information, understanding what portions of the genome are read by the
transcription machinery. It's becoming clear that there are a lot of these RNAs.
So, RNA is the messenger. A lot of these messengers that don't make proteins,
they just make RNAs and the RNAs themselves do something, usually to regulate
gene expression. So, this is, the amount of them there was completely
unanticipated. There's a huge number of them, and that's a big burgeoning field
right now. And they've been identified but no one knows what they really do, and
I'm hoping that we can make some, contribute some, contributions to
03:33:00understanding what they actually do at a molecular level.
DOMUSH: Great. Well, unless there's anything else that you want to add, I'm not
sure that I have anything else to ask about.
PANNING: I can't think of anything to add, so.
DOMUSH: Okay, great. Well, thank you so much for your time and really appreciate it.
PANNING: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
[END OF AUDIO FILE 2.1]
[END OF INTERVIEW]