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Oral history interview with Monica L. Vetter

  • 2004-Nov-05
  • 2004-Nov-08

Monica L. Vetter grew up in Markham, Ontario, Canada, the eldest of three siblings. Vetter's father worked for Honeywell and in the computer industry generally—and was gifted musically—and her mother was a nurse who, later in life, founded the Head Injury Association of Toronto, in part in response to a family tragedy. Vetter's parents provided her with access to all the things typical of childhood: gymnastics, swimming, and piano lessons; she loved reading, spending much time in the library, playing soccer, and having fun with her brothers outdoors. She entered McGill University, deciding to major in biosciences. Her interest in science led to several summers spent in various academic labs working on muscle contraction at the University of Ottawa, motor cortex and motor control in primates at the University of Toronto, and eye movements and the neural control of eye movements at McGill. Wanting to experience the academic world beyond the confines of the traditional Canadian/American school systems, Vetter spent a year abroad at the Free University in Berlin, Germany. During her time there, she applied to and was accepted at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where she conducted research in the lab of J. Michael Bishop on molecular genetics and signaling pathways in neuronal cells. She remained at UCSF to undertake a postdoctoral position in Yuh Nung Jan's laboratory focusing on ath5 transcription factor and the regulation of the initial events in vertebrate retinal neural development. From there she accepted a faculty appointment at the University of Utah, developing her research on retinal neurogenesis. At the end of the interview, Vetter talks about the biomedical revolution and her decision to pursue academic research rather than work in industry; the issue of patents; her interest in the history of science; and the role of the scientist in scientific public policy and literacy. She concludes with thoughts about the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award on her work and the process of conducting scientific research.

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