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Oral history interview with Nancy M. Hollingsworth

  • 2002-Nov-11 – 2002-Nov-13
Photograph of Nancy M. Hollingsworth

Nancy M. Hollingsworth was born in San Francisco, California, but spent most of her youth moving around—to Oregon, Panama, New Mexico, California, and, finally, Arizona—with her parents and older brother. Her father was a psychiatrist (and the reason for the travel); her mother was a trained dietitian who chose not to work while her children were growing up. Hollingsworth enjoyed school from a young age, a precocious child who loved reading, schoolwork (she would also play "school" when at home), playing cards with her family, nature, and music. In high school she had a great interest in literature, mathematics, and history, though did think about pursuing zoology as a major in college. Hollingsworth matriculated at Oregon State University and felt fortunate to have Peter Dawson as her advisor and mentor—Dawson was a population geneticist who worked on the flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum and Tribolium confusum, and who also taught the undergraduate genetics class. Though maintaining an interest in history and literature, Hollingsworth began working in Dawson's lab very early on in her undergraduate career, doing crosses and measuring map distances between some genes in Tribolium. She completed her degree in zoology, moving on to a master's degree at Oregon State. She participated in a summer course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, working under the tutelage of Lynna Hereford and Mary Anne Osley and solidifying her decision to attend the University of Washington for doctoral studies (instead of one of the three Ivy league schools that accepted her). At the University of Washington, Hollingsworth chose to work in the lab of Breck E. Byers, studying meiosis in yeast, ultimately developing a mutant screen for yeast recombination proteins and subsequently identifying the HOP1 mutant; she also had the opportunity to meet Leland H. Hartwell, with whom she also worked. From there she moved on to postdoctoral research in Gerald R. Smith's laboratory at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, studying Schizosaccharomyces pombe recombination, at which point she also met her future husband, Aaron Neiman. She transferred to the University of California, San Francisco to work with Alexander D. Johnson on Hop1 biochemistry and HOP1 alleles. She then accepted a position at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and began her research on the recombinant promoter gene MSH5 in yeast and on the roles of the Mms4/Mus81 complex and of Mek1 in recombination. The remainder of the interview focuses on the topics of Hollingworth's lab, her mentoring style, and her thoughts on contemporary issues in science and its practice. She talks about the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences on her work; her teaching duties; how she chooses her research projects; and how she balances family (she has three children) and career. The interview ends with her thoughts on collaboration and competition in research; the national scientific agenda the role of scientists in informing the public and determining public policy; gender issues; and more on the influence of Lynna Hereford and Mary Ann Osley on her career.

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