Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Lynn Cooley

  • 1996-Mar-04 – 1996-Mar-05
  • 1996-Mar-07

Lynn Cooley grew up in Portland, Connecticut, the middle child of five. Her father was in aeronautical engineering and her mother in physics, so she had a very early introduction, if not a genetic predisposition, to science. In high school she liked chemistry and mathematics courses best and finished all of those available by the end of her junior year. In consultation with her guidance counselor, she decided to graduate in only three years and to start college. Cooley matriculated into Connecticut College, where she majored in zoology. In college she discovered modern dance. She also took a semester off to take a course at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, which led to her participation on a research cruise. During a later summer course at Woods Hole Cooley discovered biochemistry and immediately decided that was what she wanted to do. She applied to graduate schools, entering the University of Texas, where she persuaded Kwan Wang to take her into his lab to work on cytoskeletal proteins. She continued her dancing as well, using it often as a release from growing tension in Wang's lab. Eventually she decided to leave the university after completing her master's degree, at which point she worked as a lab technician for Joanne Ravel and performed with a modern dance company. Wanting to return to the East Coast, she transferred to Dieter Söll's lab at Yale University, where he later suggested she complete her PhD at the University of Texas while conducting research in his lab. Cooley then accepted a postdoc appointment in Allan Spradling's lab at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Baltimore, Maryland, where she began researching the regulation of expression in follicle cells. She also developed a focus on the kelch and chickadee genes. This research continued when Cooley started her own lab at the Yale School of Medicine, in conjunction with students Feiyu Xue and Esther Verheyen. The lab's research divided into two components: genes related to the function of ring canals and genes related to the regulation of actin in nurse cells. In the meantime, Cooley earned a pilot's license and married her husband, Ted Killiam, with whom she has a daughter. Cooley discusses the scientific and academic issues she finds critical, including cutbacks in science funding, the impact of molecular techniques on developmental biology, the need to improve the public's understanding of basic research, and shifting trends in funding. She concludes the interview by expressing her satisfaction with her career.

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