Oral history interview with Marilyn C. Pike

  • 1991-Jun-06

Marilyn Pike grew up in Westchester, New York. Her father was a chemical engineer who was interested in desalination, even patenting a freeze-drying process for Maxwell House Coffee. Her mother was a housewife. Pike credits her high-school biology teacher for inspiring her career in science. She majored in zoology at Duke University but became interested in biochemistry in Irwin Fridovich’s class. After graduation Pike worked for three years as a technician in Ralph Snyderman’s lab, publishing several papers. She decided to go to graduate school, staying at Duke and continuing to work in Snyderman’s lab. There she began work with phospholipids, work that continues in her lab today.

When lab work became boring, Pike decided to go to medical school, again at Duke. She finished her MD in three years and moved to University of Michigan to complete her internship and residency. While there she married Richard Mulligan. He was at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, so Pike found a job at Massachusetts General Hospital, with an assistant professorship at Harvard University; her lab’s new work there concerns IL 8. Funding has become so difficult, however, that Pike feels she will probably look at other options, such as chief of medicine or consulting for a drug company.

Pike talks about her own perfectionism, her love of working with her hands, her need to control. She likes unambiguous results for experiments and likes doing graphics. She likes the congeniality and fun of small labs but thinks that they are a thing of the past, partly because of funding and partly because of the complexity of today’s science. She talks about politics in hospital administration and the increasing need for a businessman as chief executive officer, detailing some of what she thinks are Harvard’s mistakes in administration of funding. She concludes with some discussion of the problems facing women in academia.

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