Marla Luskin grew up in the San Fernando Valley, near Los Angeles, California, one of three children. Her father was a plumber and her mother a housewife. Neither of her parents valued the need for higher education, especially for a daughter. All three children have advanced degrees, nonetheless, perhaps in part because of an uncle’s encouragement. Always interested in science, Luskin was able to work in a lab while in high school. Luskin began college at University of California, Irvine, but transferred to Berkeley to work in Gerald Westheimer’s lab, majoring in psychobiology (later called neurobiology). She refers to Westheimer as her “science father”.
After graduation Luskin took a year off to work and save money for graduate school, but she attended seminars and read to keep up with her science. She admired Viktor Hamburger’s work and decided on Washington University in St. Louis (Wash U.) for her PhD. Her dissertation dealt with the organization of connectivity in the olfactory system. Next she looked for a postdoctoral position in developmental neurobiology, entering Carla Shatz’s lab at Stanford University. She discovered a cell population that is found in the developing cerebral cortex before birth but gone after birth; called the subplate, this group of cells is unprecedented in the nervous system. Unfortunately, Luskin could not take the subplate work with her to Simon LeVay’s physiology lab at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
After a short time Luskin went back to Wash U. to Joshua Sanes’s lab. After recovering from a serious illness, Luskin decided to look for a job, consulting the ads in Science. She was offered an assistant professorship at Emory University, where she has now been for a year. She had a small startup package, but she has garnered a number of grants. Her lab is smaller than she would like but is scheduled to enlarge. She loves all the challenges she has found in her new position, though she would like to teach somewhat less, and is very happy at Emory. She works long hours and expects to continue to do so, hoping one day to understand which genes regulate development and how they do it.