Oral history interview with Maureen J. Charron

  • 1999-Sep-07 – 1999-Sep-09

Maureen J. Charron has spent most of her life in New York City, New York. She was born on Long Island but grew up in Queens. The elder of two sisters born to parents of Italian and French Canadian descent, she attended parochial schools. She found that her all-girls high school, Mary Louis Academy, provided an excellent education as well as the security of a disciplined approach to education for women. She had always liked science and took as many classes as she could. The first in her family to go to college, she had to persuade her parents that further education was necessary for her; this she did at first by saying she wanted to be a doctor. For college she selected Queens College, then considered the "jewel" of the City University of New York system. When she decided she liked research and did not want to be a doctor, she accepted a position in the lab of Corinne Michels, at Queens College again, where, ironically, she worked on maltose fermentation genes of yeast for beer. She was intrigued to find that the ends of chromosomes appeared to be "hot spots" for recombinant DNA; eventually she developed this into her research into diabetes. Her PhD work at Queens went very well, and Charron had a number of offers from Ivy League colleges for postdoc work. She ended up taking a postdoc at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where she worked in Harvey Lodish's lab, studying glucose transporters. Lodish required incomers to bring their own grants, so Charron acquired a new skill, obtaining a Jane Coffin Childs award. She loved the atmosphere at the Whitehead, the extravagant facilities, and Lodish's enthusiasm for any and all science; and she stuck to her own timeline of three years for a postdoc before beginning her job search. Charron accepted an offer from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. One of Einstein's main attractions for Charron was its founding principle that the school would not discriminate against women or on other grounds except scholarship. It was also important that the school had a diabetes lab already established, funded by the National Institutes of Health, and a transgenic mouse facility. In addition, Einstein offered a dynamic atmosphere, creatively-thinking scholars, and a location close to her family and friends. Charron has won a number of awards, including the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences award, and is now an associate professor at Einstein. Charron finishes her interview with discussions of ethics in science and her experiences with unethical students; the difficulties women have in science, especially as they progress to faculty; tenure; grant writing; competition and collaboration; lab management and budgeting; and her professional and personal goals. She loves science, though she says she has Lodish's degree of enthusiasm for a more limited number of topics.

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