Pitzer Spotlights

2006-2007 Spotlight Archives

Cathy Smith '02 has Paper Published in Nature Magazine
An Interview with Cathy Smith '02

Cathy Smith
Cathy Smith '02
"I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in science."

When did you first know that you had an interest in science?
I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in science. Even in elementary school it was always my favorite subject.

What was your first science experiment?
I honestly don't remember what my first experiment was. I remember being really into the dissections we used to do in elementary school. I have always been really interested in the way things work, from machines to humans."

Why have you chosen medical research versus clinical medicine?
The reason I chose scientific research over clinical medicine was because of the freedom it allows you. Most academic research labs have no set hours or vacation days. It is really up to you to decide when you work and how much you get done. That freedom also applies to what you do day to day. If there's some scientific question out there that you want to answer you just design an experiment and find a way. I'm not the kind of person that wanted a 9 to 5 job where I just did what some boss told me to do. Also, I just plain love doing science, pipetting, running gels, I love it all. Especially when it works!

What is the next step or milestone in your career?
The first step in my career is to graduate from Columbia with my PhD. Then I plan to find an academic post doc. I want to move fields a little bit and work on DNA replication instead of DNA recombination which is what I work on now.

What would be the epitome of success for you in your field?
I guess the epitome of success for me in my field would be to win the Nobel Prize but I'm not that optimistic. I just want to have my own lab at a good university and to always be the best scientist that I can be. Funding for scientific research seems to be scarce these days; it is really difficult to get a lab up and running as a new principal investigator. I think just to have my own lab would be a real achievement.

Did you ever think that you would appear in Nature, one of the world's premier science magazines, as a PhD student?
Getting published in Nature was way beyond what I expected from my graduate studies. All I hoped for when I got here (to Columbia) was to get the two papers required for graduation. It really wasn't important to me where they were published. I am very happy with the way things turned out.

How will the research results discussed in your Nature article affect medicine in terms of cancer and future research?
So in this first paper we basically just found a process that helps cells prevent the duplication of mutated genes, which should help prevent the onset of cancer. Now I am trying to find factors involved in the regulation of this process. This should give us insight into how this process works. There is a possibility that genes that are mutated in various cancer prone syndromes are involved in this process. That would be very interesting.

Why did you select Pitzer for your undergraduate college?
I chose to go to Pitzer because I really liked the 5 college system. I really liked the idea of the Keck Science Center. I wanted to go to a small school but I liked that the science center was shared by 3 schools. I figured it would mean that there were more class options and more resources available. I also thought Pitzer was going to be a good fit for me because of its emphasis on free thinking. I majored in Biology/Chemistry. I feel that a liberal arts education has been very good for me.

How did/has a liberal arts education assisted you in your graduate studies?
I really need to balance science with humanities. I couldn't handle only doing, talking and thinking about science all day. I think I would go crazy. Part of why I chose to move to New York was that I was excited about all of the art and music that would be available to me on top of the good scientific research.

What do you do with your few minutes of spare time?
My hobbies are reading, running, knitting, watching movies and going to rock concerts. I love animals and can't wait to be in a position to own my own pets. I became vegetarian while at Pitzer and have been ever since.

-Susan Andrews