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Oral history interview with Pamela B. Meluh

  • 2007-Nov-26
  • 2007-Nov-28

Pamela Meluh grew up in suburban Baltimore, Maryland, one of two children. Her
father was a diesel mechanic, her mother a housewife. Although they did not have advanced education her parents always encouraged Pamela to do her best in school, in whatever field she chose. Her father liked to take Meluh exploring or sometimes working with him. She attended public schools, which she says were very good. She knew at a young age that she wanted to go to college and to study science. She attended Loyola College in Baltimore, receiving a broad education and majoring in biology. Next, Meluh entered the new Applied Molecular Biology Program at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, for a master’s degree in applied biology. She spent a summer at Merck & Co. and a summer at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory; the latter remains a major influence in her career. Accepted into Princeton University’s PhD program, Meluh rotated into Mark Rose’s lab to work with microtubules. Using the dideoxy method of sequencing, she cloned KAR3, the first microtubule-associated protein in yeast; it is also a kinesin. This work generated a “landmark” Cell paper and contributed to her winning the Jacobus Fellowship. Still excited by mitosis and cell segregation, Meluh chose Douglas Koshland’s lab at Carnegie Institution of Washington for postdoctoral work. There she won a Helen Hay Whitney Fellowship. Despite sabotage of her buffers she published her work on MIF-2 and centromere’s function in yeast and higher eukaryotes and the implications for microtubules. She invented the name “CHIP” for chromatin and histone immunoprecipitations and is sorry she did not copyright the name. Meluh accepted an offer of Assistant Membership from Sloan Kettering Institute (SKI), with its accompanying assistant professorship at Weill Cornell Medicine, because their science was a good fit with hers. She was given a good startup package, but she would have preferred
help with staffing her lab. Meluh won the Pew Scholars award, proposing to study how the
SUMO (small ubiquitin-like modifier) pathway affects centromere function and chromatin
structure. She learned the hard way about the low retention/promotion rate at SKI when she was denied promotion. Meluh next became Research Associate at Johns Hopkins University’s High Throughput Center, which had been established by Jef Boeke. There she continues her work on the SUMO pathway and yeast. She says Boeke is always active and interactive, and she finds Hopkins open and friendly. She discusses her lab management style as “mother hen” and rigidly insistent on careful notes and accuracy. She talks more about the Pew award, praising its emphasis on risk and creativity, and saying she has enjoyed the meetings and made new friends and colleagues. Her Pew application noted that she thinks science is and should be fun. She talks about other funding types and bemoans the state of publication, both print and on-line. Meluh concludes by reiterating her satisfaction with working at Hopkins.

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