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Oral history interview with Frances M. Brodsky

  • 1995-Aug-21 – 1995-Aug-23

Frances M. Brodsky grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. Her father worked at ETS (Educational Testing Service), a job he began shortly after the company was founded. Her mother, an artist, was a professor at Rutgers and director of the Rutgers Center for Innovative Printmaking. Frances had a privileged and happy childhood and adolescence, complete with good friends, supportive parents, and an excellent education in Princeton, New Jersey, public schools. Brodsky's seventh-grade teacher got her interested in biology. Somehow, with primitive microscopes, the students did microscopy. Brodsky's parents encouraged her interest in science, hoping that she would become a medical doctor. She describes her most exciting high school teachers as those who taught biology, math, French, and Russian. In 1972 Brodsky entered Radcliffe, her mother's alma mater, where she majored in biochemical sciences. Although she cultivated an interest in medicine in deference to her parents, she eventually faced the reality that "I fundamentally was interested in the principle, but not the practice of medicine." Through the biochemistry mentoring program of the Boston-based universities, Brodsky was able to work for three summers in Paul D. Gottlieb's laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Still planning on medical school, Brodsky applied to MD/PhD programs but instead earned a Marshall Fellowship to study at Oxford University. There she worked in Walter F. Bodmer's laboratory, where she began her research on monoclonal antibodies. After earning her PhD, Brodsky attended Harvard Medical School for one semester, but the practice of medicine no longer interested her. Instead she undertook postdoctoral research on clathrin and HLA with Jack L. Strominger and later moved to Stanford University for further postdoctoral research with Peter Parham, her collaborator from her time in Oxford and her partner. Becton Dickinson Immunocytometry Systems then hired Brodsky as a program manager; there she ran her own lab, performing basic research in monoclonal antibodies and cell surface biology. She learned a great deal of cell biology by attending the ASCB Annual Meeting to meet others in the field, ("infiltrating" cell biology, as she thinks of it). After four years in industry, Brodsky made the then-uncommon decision to go back to the academic world, taking a position as assistant professor at University of California, San Francisco, where she is now a full professor. Brodsky discusses the years she spent working at Becton-Dickinson as the ideal way by which to switch from immunology to cell biology while expanding the clathrin antibody research. Throughout the interview Brodsky discusses the changing issues surrounding funding and how that affects her laboratory management, the recent decision by the Board of Regents of the University of California to abolish the affirmative action policy, and the ways scientific collaboration and controversies have affected her. The end of the interview includes a note regarding Brodsky's pseudonymously authored first mystery novel.

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