Lili Yamasaki grew up outside of Detroit, Michigan, the second youngest of six siblings. Yamasaki's father was a physician and her mother a nurse, until she began raising her children. Yamasaki had an early interest in art and in writing, which she believes leads to creativity in science. She excelled in school, developing a proficiency in and curiosity about science, though she had a very well-rounded education and several influential teachers. Like all of her siblings, Yamasaki entered the University of Michigan to pursue her undergraduate degree, committed to her early interest in chemistry but still diversifying her education with classes in the humanities. During summers she worked or interned in various labs focused on chemistry—at the Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago, with Donald Huppi at Michigan, and at Gelman Instrument Company. While working at the University of Michigan for a year after graduation, for personal and professional reasons Yamaski decided to apply to positions on the West Coast, ultimately doing enzymology research in the department of psychiatry at Stanford University with Donna L. Wong and Roland D. Ciaranello. Wanting to return to school to obtain a doctoral degree, she applied to a number of graduate programs, ultimately accepting an offer from the University of Texas Health Science Center, where she worked in Robert E. Lanford's laboratory on receptor specificity in nuclear transport. From there she moved on to postdoctoral research on retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein in mice at Massachusetts General Hospital, with Edward Harlow, Nicolas Dyson, and Tyler Jacks as her mentors. Yamasaki took a position at Columbia University at the end of her postdoctoral research looking at the regulation of growth and development by suppressors and activators. Throughout the interview she comments upon her role in the laboratory over time, her and her mentors' process of writing journal articles as well as laboratory management styles; and her daughter and balancing family and career. The interview ends with a discussion of patents; the privatization of research; gender issues in science; and the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant.
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