Hutch United (HU) is proud to announce that one of our faculty board members, Dr. Julie Overbaugh, is being honored with the Award for Scientific Advancement by the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) Seattle chapter at the 3rd Annual Award Banquet on Wednesday, June 17th. Throughout her career, she has made significant contributions to the understanding of HIV transmission and pathogenesis and is widely recognized as a leader in the field. Dr. Overbaugh has a long-standing collaboration with research teams in Seattle and Kenya studying the HIV transmission risk in highly exposed women and in infants.
In addition to her scientific accomplishments, Dr. Overbaugh is recognized for her commitment to mentorship. She has trained ~50 PhD students and fellows as a primary mentor and numerous other trainees as co-mentor.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Overbaugh and talk about her own experience as an early career scientist in training and thoughts on mentorship.
HU: Did you know from an early age that you wanted a career in research?
JO: I grew up in a working class family and had never met a scientist until I went to college. Neither of my parents went to college and there was never an expectation that I would go beyond a four-year college. When I finished undergrad, I was just told that I should go to graduate school, and so I applied. I also interviewed with companies and just couldn’t see myself there at that time. So I kind of went to graduate school by default. It took me a while to decide that I was going to stay in science.
HU: Were there scientists in your training that were influential or encouraged you pursue a career in science?
JO: Early on I was not entirely inspired by science, and I think part of it was that I was working on really basic stuff. I was doing enzymology, and it was hard to see how my work translated to the real world. Then, I went to do a post-doc when I worked for John Cairns who at the time had a MacArthur award. I was the only person in his lab, and that’s when I got more interested in science because he would sit with me everyday and give me a lecture on some topic of science and he talked a lot about ideas he had. He was just this really thoughtful person, and he cared more about the big ideas of science than simply doing experiments everyone else was doing.
HU: What about later in your career?
JO: When I started at Fred Hutch, Maxine Linial [Member of Basic Sciences Division at Fred Hutch] was an informal mentor. She would read my grants and give advice. Much of that advice I would give to people today. Barb Trask [former head of Human Biology Division at Fred Hutch] was also influential. She was the kind of leader that you don’t see very often. She cared about everyone individually. She put everyone else ahead of her own interests, and I always felt I had her full support.
HU: How has your background influenced your own mentoring style?
JO: I appreciate that people who are coming from a background with less exposure and advantage may be a bit slower out of the gate, but, if this is their true calling, they can quickly catch up with some support. In addition, I think a diverse lab can bring new perspectives, and this in turn can positively influence the science. The greatest strides in science come from creativity, and creativity thrives on different perspectives.
HU: Do you think that your views on mentorship are shared among other principal investigators (PIs)?
JO: I think PIs are in this hard position now because the funding is so much tighter. It’s harder to take risk, and it’s easier to take people with a stellar track record. I think there is more and more pressure to do that. If we don’t take that risk we are going to miss people. It’s easier when you’re a bigger lab and better established than when you’re just starting out. If we look at most of our peers who we think are doing interesting, innovative science, I’d venture to guess that many of them were not those perfect students.
Please join us in congratulating Dr. Overbaugh on her Award for Scientific Advancement and thanking her for her commitment to mentorship and diversity in science.