Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Ann M. Pullen

  • 1996-Aug-07 – 1996-Aug-09

Ann M. Pullen was born in Eastbourne, a small town on the south coast of England, though was raised in Sutton Coldfield just outside of Birmingham, the elder of two sisters. Both of her parents were university-educated teachers who lived through World War II-era England (her father serving a stint in the military while in college): her father taught history and English, her mother English and music. Pullen was interested in science and nature from a young age, exploring the outdoors with her family on regular nature walks, keeping a "Wood Book"—a diary/log of what she discovered when out exploring—and using a microscope to dissect flies and other insects. She was always competitive in school, looking to perform the best on all of her exams and studying intently for her classes, and she had the opportunity to attend a new science-emphasized school (situated next to a pig farm) in her community while still young. By the time she was in her teens, Pullen self-selected to pursue a career in science, focusing her coursework on such a goal and attending what she felt was a more intensive pre-college school. Throughout her pre-college years, and in some cases well into them, Pullen played netball, threw the javelin on her track and field team, and also played piano. Several influential, female teachers helped guide her into a scientific career and into an appropriate university. Pullen attended the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, in part because of the university's emphasis on applied scientific training, providing students with real-world experience. While at Bath she worked for six months in a state-run agricultural lab that was a part of the University of Bristol's Department of Agriculture and Horticulture, another six months at the Technical Research Centre of Finland in Helsinki, Finland, which was a brewing laboratory, and time in a lab with Michael J. Danson at Bath working on citrate synthase; her experiences led her to pursue a doctoral degree in science instead of a medical degree. She matriculated at Cambridge University in order to study immunology with Alan J. Munro, researching Peyer's patch T cell hybridomas. Though Pullen found that Cambridge's intellectual environment was rich and quite useful to a budding scientist, the limited funding and availability of resources proved somewhat frustrating. In order to continue her career and expand it beyond the confines of the British scientific community, Pullen then went on to a postdoctoral fellowship in the John W. Kappler-Philippa C. Marrack lab at the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver, Colorado. In the Kappler-Marrack lab she focused her work on T cells, quickly discovering superantigens (antigens that were extremely potent at triggering cells) and publishing her results in Nature. From there she moved on to an assistant professorship at University of Washington, starting her lab with funds from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health. At Washington she collaborated with Michael Patrick Stuart on Mycoplasma fermentans and also began using transgenic mice to study extrathymic T cell development. At the end of the interview Pullen discusses various aspects of being a principal investigator, as well as what it is like to live the life of a scientist. She talks about dealing with administrative paperwork; the multidisciplinary focus of the Pew annual meetings; competition with other labs; the impact of research funding cuts on the University of Washington School of Medicine; problems with the tenure system; and her belief in preventive public health programs. The interview concludes with her thoughts on her participation in the Association for Women in Science and in a University of Washington biomedical faculty women's group; problems facing women faculty who decide to have children while pursuing tenure; delivering one of the university's Science in Medicine talks; balancing family life with her career; regulation of experimental animal use; animal rights activism and research; studying human T cell repertoire in patients with necrotizing fasciitis; and modeling her lab on the Kappler-Marrack lab.

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