Memorial Sloan Kettering “Power Couples” Talk at Women in Science Luncheon

Pictured: Emily Casey, Isabel Lam, Ping Chi, Yu Chen, Tullia Lindsten, Craig Thompson, Moriah Nissan & Chong Luo.

(From left) Emily Casey, Isabel Lam, Ping Chi, Yu Chen, Tullia Lindsten, Craig Thompson, Moriah Nissan, and Chong Luo.

On Thursday, November 20, 2013, Gerstner Sloan Kettering Women in Science sat down to lunch with Memorial Sloan Kettering President and CEO Craig B. Thompson and his wife, scientist Tullia Lindsten, along with married physician-scientists Yu Chen and Ping Chi. They were invited to share their experiences as couples who hold academic appointments at the same institution. 

Drs. Chen and Chi are members of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program. Dr. Chen’s laboratory focuses on understanding how critical transcription factors mediate prostate cancer oncogenesis. Dr. Chi studies genetic and epigenetic changes that cause cancer. Dr. Thompson’s lab works to define the molecular signaling pathways that regulate nutrient uptake, and Dr. Lindsten runs their joint laboratory.

Both couples were candid— and even humorous — in answering questions about their careers, their relationships, and how they intersect. The couples credited much of the success of their relationships to the help and examples of other people, most notably their parents.

Drs. Chi and Chen both grew up in households with two parents who were scientists and they joked that at the dinner table the topic was usually chemistry. “It was just the way we were brought up,” Dr. Chi explained.

Getting Personal

The couples also shared personal stories of the past. Dr. Thompson advised the women not to rush, recalling how he took the time to drive his daughter to high school every day and the memories that were created on those “four-and-a-half minute” car rides. Dr. Chen added that there “is not enough time in the day to be perfect at both [work and child-rearing]. But it’s okay, as long as you love them.”

All four agreed that making the transition from postdoctoral fellowships to faculty positions was the most difficult because they were searching not just for one job, but two. Drs. Thompson and Lindsten realized that working together was their only option. Still collaborating in the same lab today, they have found that their differences are what make them a great team—in and out of the workplace.

Good Advice, Gained From Experience

Drs. Thompson, Lindsten, Chen, and Chi also shared valuable advice with the luncheon guests.

Dr. Lindsten reminded the students to be flexible and adapt to special circumstances. Dr. Thompson stressed compromising, saying that he and Dr. Lindsten did that often when deciding where to live. Drs. Chen and Chi said how important it is to have someone who understands what the other partner is going through and who can share in the experience. And both couples agreed that communicating with your partner is essential.

Moriah Nissan and Isabel Lam, along with Gerstner Sloan Kettering alumna Ellen Hukklehoven, founded Gerstner Sloan Kettering Women in Science in 2011 to promote open conversation and support for women in science.

Emily Casey and Chong Luo have assumed leadership roles to plan next year’s Gerstner Sloan Kettering Women in Science events.