Retrovirology is excited to open a regular segment called “Interview with a Retrovirologist” where two scientists discuss their careers with the aim of highlighting executives and emerging stars, celebrating diversity and inspiring the next generation of scientists.
Dr. Carol Carter and Dr. Sebla B. Kutluay
We are pleased that our first scientist couple Drs. Carol Carter, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, SUNY Stony Brook and Sebla Kutluay, Assistant Professor of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University, St. Louis.
For the next generation of researchers, Dr. Carter notes that both gender and ethnic “dual minorities” in academic research bring both open and hidden hurdles and challenges, but also a unique opportunity to attract a network of friends and supporters who are very diverse in gender, ethnicity and geographic origin. She believes that they open up perspectives for her that she broaden both scientifically and personally.
Sebla Kutluay: It’s a pleasure to have this first series of interviews with you today. Let’s start by finding out about your background, especially whether you’ve always had an interest in science, perhaps hunting animals in your garden as a child?
Carol Carter: Oh no, no way! I always think that one of the reasons I am a “Micro“I was a biologist because I definitely didn’t feel like hunting animals. Even the deer in my back yard, I’d like to have them in the zoo, but not really in my back yard. As a first year PhD student, I had a very lucrative job and paid $ 8 an hour. for a couple of immunologists to collect ascites fluid. At the time, $ 8 an hour was considered “big money”. When a mouse got sick, the littermates would hide it under the straw. So you can imagine that there were many traumatic moments in which I discovered half-eaten body parts and that really solidified which biological systems I would ultimately work on, viruses, cells, etc. so basic science …
SK: And a virus that doesn’t have a good animal model … So when did you first realize you wanted to be a scientist?
CC: Well, I really have to say that there has probably been some preparation as one of my earliest memories is an elementary school teacher encouraging me for 4th grade.the, 5the and 6the Grades. He gave me old books that the library wanted to get rid of. One of them was called “The Book of Inventions”. It was torn and had a hard brown cover. It was absolutely fascinating to read how people stumbled upon the things they discovered. So, I’d say there was some prep early and then in high school that maybe got more focused.
SK: So if you hadn’t got these books what would you have become?
CC: My family annoys me because I like to sing. But the thing is, and the reason my family annoys me is because I can notto sing! Another thing I like to do is play the piano. And I bought one. But another thing I can’t do is play the piano. I definitely don’t have time to practice. I keep promising them that “when I retire” I will learn to play the piano. But of course that’s ridiculous as I’ll likely have arthritic fingers!
SK: It’s funny because I always tell people that if I weren’t a scientist and I had no talent, I would become a singer! At least you didn’t say you were going to be a doctor.
CC: Oh, no way! I mean, between the glamorous clothes and the fun, what better job could there be? In fact, my first year at graduate school was both fun and unusual. It was the first time Yale had admitted a senior year of 6 girls and only 1 boy, as opposed to the other way around. So we have definitely bonded and are still friends today (Fig. 3). We did a talent show in the first year where we replaced verse with science The sound of music: We occupy our chair as the autocratic but friendly Baron von Trapp and our faculty as the von Trapp children. It was great fun because I could do all the things that I love to do!
SK: We heard about your motivations for getting into microbiology, but tell us more about how you got into virology, retrovirology, and HIV over the years.
CC: I started studying bacteriophages because I found phages super fascinating, but I really didn’t get along with my first advisor in graduate school. When I went to the chair and told him I had to leave the lab, he thought I was a heretic, but allowed me to. So I chose a person for my second advisor who differs from the first person by 180 degrees in almost all aspects.
The most important attributes were (1), he was a skilled animal virologist – an epidemiologist who studied measles virus infections in indigenous populations in Brazil – who wanted to expand into basic virological research and (2), he was very playful and adventurous. He took me to meetings and introduced me to his colleagues who were senior faculties and introduced me to people whose names were in the textbooks of the time! And I think he was very forgiving in letting me read the literature and figure out how to ask questions.
One of the people he introduced to me and who made me become an animal virologist was Matthew Scharff of Albert Einstein University, now a member of the National Academy. Matty Scharff introduced HeLa cells for the cultivation of animal viruses. As a postdoc, I was very interested in reoviruses because their double-stranded RNA genome was so unique that I switched to Aaron Shatkin’s laboratory. Fortunately for me, funding for reoviruses became very difficult after I got the job as an associate professor because although they were really interesting because of the double stranded nature of RNA, they did not cause a widespread disease. I knew it was time to change fields when an NIH program officer whom I had been moaning about funding said to me (and I quote): “Carol, NIH funds health, not an interesting science about health“. Lol.
Read the full interview on in Retrovirology