Masterminds in Medicine Episode 1: Unveiling the World of Virology with Jennifer MoffatDec 19, 2023
Dr. Jennifer Moffat, a renowned professor of microbiology and immunology at the State University of New York, is a trailblazing medical innovator driven by an unwavering passion for understanding the intricacies of microbes. Hailing from the vibrant city of San Diego, California, her upbringing amidst the wonders of the natural world ignited a profound curiosity that laid the foundation for her extraordinary career in biology. Dr. Moffat's journey took an unexpected yet thrilling turn when she delved into the captivating realm of microbiology during her college years. With a remarkable early immersion in this field, she embarked on a trajectory marked by groundbreaking research and academic achievements. Her unique perspective and unwavering dedication to unraveling the mysteries of microbes make her a captivating and inspiring figure in the world of medical research.
In this episode, you will be able to:
- Discover the remarkable journey of medical innovators and their groundbreaking contributions to science and healthcare.
- Explore Dr. Jennifer Moffat's captivating insights into the world of microbiology and immunology, uncovering the secrets of the human immune system.
- Uncover the invaluable impact of mentorship in the pursuit of a successful career in science, and how it shapes the future of aspiring scientists.
- Learn the art of balancing motherhood and a thriving career in the dynamic field of science, inspiring a new perspective on work-life harmony.
- Embrace the power of perseverance and determination in pursuing new hobbies and passions, including becoming a rowing gold medalist into her 40s and 50s!
Impact of Mentorship
The influence of supportive mentorship, as displayed in Jennifer Moffat's story, emphasizes its significant impact on shaping a successful career path. Encouragement from mentors can ignite a passion, guide aspiring scientists in the right direction, and provide the necessary support to delve deeper into their chosen fields. This episode serves as a reminder of how mentorship can not only shape careers but also lead to innovations that advance the medical field.
Welcome to masterminds in medicine. This is Juliet Hahn. I'm here to explore the personal side of the medical innovators, the individuals who dedicate their lives into advancing and healing us as patients. I am excited to be able to bring you the human side of these stories to connect on a deeper level. Welcome to masterminds in medicine.
Welcome to masterminds in medicine. I am Juliet Hahn, and this is brought to you by your next stop. And right now, we have a guest that I can't even tell you how excited on, because I met Dr. Jennifer Moffat. Welcome to masterminds in medicine.
Thank you for having me, Juliet. Yes. So Dr. Moffat is a professor at the State University in New York, and I met Jennifer Moffat through a study that we were doing with Environ through the NIH on Shingles. And so that was my first kind of interaction with Dr.
Moffat. And from there I said, I want to know a little bit more about what makes Dr. Moffat tick. Like, how did she get into this? Because you guys know your Next Stop listeners that I become really curious, and I love people's personal stories.
So I reached out to Dr. Moffat and I said, can we talk? I really want to have you on this podcast. I obviously want to touch base what you're doing because you were the principal investigator on this, and at the State University, you're an associate professor of microbiology and immunology, which I really don't know anything about. And I became even more fascinated asking you, you know, welcome to Masterminds in Medicine, and thank you so much for taking the time to share who you are.
Well, it's my pleasure, Juliet. And I'm actually eager to share the journey that brought me to this point and some of the more recent work we've done with FetTech. It's pretty exciting stuff. It is. And it was funny because, again, this is new world for me.
And being in the meeting when you kind of were taking us through what your findings were. I remember sitting on the side and kind of like, squealing, but watching everyone else's body language and the way you guys were. Kind of talking in the science world and thinking these are really exciting things, but everyone's so kind of not flat, but really just like, okay, this is the science behind it. And then again, when we met and we started diving into your story and then hearing some of your passion and then watching you just kind of light up, I was like, this is going to be exciting. This is going to be exciting for the listeners because it's bringing them a different story.
This is bringing them a different side. And I really want to bring the kind of personal stories to science. Now that I'm in this role at FetTech as the chief communications officer, this is kind of what lights me up, the stories about people and really stories connect us. When you hear someone's story, you kind of ask some questions to yourself, but also, hey, I feel a little bit more connected. So I would love to start with kind of your background, like where you grew up and a little bit know your upbringing.
All right. Well, I actually grew up in San Diego, California. I was one of the few native Californians in my classroom growing up, but my father and his father were all from so, you know, I spent a lot of time outdoors, exploring, going on backpacking trips, skiing trips, and just learned to really love the natural world. So when I went off to college, I was a biology major, and I went about as far north as you can go in California. I went to University of California at Davis, and I just fell in love with it instantly.
I absolutely loved everything about being in college, studying biology. And my world really changed when I took a microbiology course, and I was astonished that there's this unseen world underneath, really inside of us, on every surface. We're covered in microbes, bacteria, viruses, fungus. And I didn't know about that, and I was riveted. I love that.
I'm going to pause you, and again, my listeners are going to probably be laughing because they're going to be like, she's going to ask, so what drew you to science? What drew you into that in school? Yeah. Well, I have this vivid memory as a young, very young child hiding out in my grandparents house where I could steal the encyclopedias and open them up and just look at everything in the encyclopedia. I was riveted by the human anatomy part, just any picture of science.
I think what it was is I wanted to know how things worked. Like, fundamentally, how does stuff work? How does it all fit together? And luckily, I was encouraged to just be curious as a kid and ask a lot of questions. And one of the things that I love so much, and I think this is why we connected, is I was that same sort of kid.
I was so fascinated. I had all those anatomy and physiology kind of books. Like, my parents would be like, oh my gosh, is she going to be a doctor? What is this? And I think I shared with you, I'm dyslexic.
So school was really difficult for me, so I really kind of excelled more in the communications and I don't want to say English because dyslexia, that's where also I struggled, but I was able to connect more and put that down on paper. So the sciences were really tough for me, but I was always really curious because that's how my brain worked and even how the world worked. I was the kid that was like, well, why does that happen and how does that happen? So that's when we were talking, I really connected with you on that because it is a fascinating world to kind of understand and how brains comprehend it and then go, so you were that kid now. Did you have siblings when you were growing up?
I did. I actually have a younger brother, and he is a truly gifted musician. And so for him, every tune he ever heard, he could just absorb it, repeat it, sing it, play it, and I felt that I had that ability to absorb the details of the world around me, and it just sunk in so easily. So he could hear music and tunes. I could just learn facts and see the world in a very up close, detailed way.
That's cool. What did your parents do in a living? What was their profession? So my dad was an electronics engineer, and he's also a naturalist in that he loves to study the geography, the geology, the history, the astronomy. He loves to know about the world, and he passed that on to us.
We could ask him any question. He also would play us songs on his guitar, so it was real hippies. My parents were very young and my mom was like a real estate agent, and she worked with redevelopment, really, of some of the older neighborhoods in San Diego. But my grandparents were really involved with us and they took us places, traveling Europe, Alaska, Grand Canyon, and really broadened our world and gave us piano lessons and that kind of thing. So I had a lot of family around me that I just felt were know, supported us in many ways and.
That'S, you know, when people think about California and San Diego, you think about the outdoors, right? And then you went up to upstate California and again, that's think I think of Tahoe and all those, and it's super outdoorsy. So when you went into college and you started studying the microbiology, take us kind of through that. Was that like a light bulb moment that you were like, this is what I want to do? Yes, it really absolutely was.
I was taking biology. I had to take some electives. I took microbiology. And I found myself sitting closer and closer to the front row. Like, by the second week, I'm like, front row, right?
And I'm writing down every word this professor said, and he actually paused and he says, I lost my train of thought. And he comes up to my notebook, spins it around, looks at my notes, and goes, oh, okay, now I know where I am, right? So I was, like, recording every possible and I met with him in his office and he just asked me, like, hey, you want to work on really? You're really enthusiastic. So he shared his passion with me, Dr.
Ingram, and I just really got to know more about the whole microbiology field. It was a terrific department at UC Davis, and I took more and more courses and loved every bit of it. Worked in a lab got out a research publication before I even graduated, and I had to choose what my field would be. And I thought, oh, medical technology, right? I could be in a hospital lab and be doing diagnostic tests.
That was my second choice. But I was, in fact, encouraged to go to graduate school. And you brought up a good point, and I think it's always wonderful to have that teacher or that parent or that person that sees you and encourages you, because when you have even some of us just need one person that's behind us that gives us that you can do this. And I have very vivid memories. Again, struggling in school, I didn't have a lot of, like, okay, I love this place.
I love the feedback that I'm getting from some of these teachers or whatever, but there was always one every couple of years that would see me and would build me up. And I also had a very supportive family and friends and stuff like that. So I think it's a really important thing that anyone listening that works with children or even teenagers, if you see something, be the person that kind of, hey, I see you. I see what you're doing. And I think it's great because you never know, and we talked about and we're going to get into it.
But a passion, right? When you have a passion for something, the sky's the limit. When you have that direction and you have that support. So you found really quickly what you were loving, and then you had that kind of that professor say, I see you. I love what you're doing.
I can see you in this. So then take us through as you went to graduate school, and where did that go? Well, I just want to comment on what you said, and that is it hit me like a lightning strike. This deep interest in studying microbes, it has never gone away, right? And so having that drive from that internal drive has really been an advantage to me because it clears away other choices, right?
I don't have to figure out, well, this way or that way, what do I do? Because I knew exactly what I was drawn toward, and not everyone finds it, and some people get to try a lot of things, but I found it early, and it has been one of the biggest advantages I think I've had. So I'm grateful. And some of your success, because, as you said, because you were able to find that, I mean, you graduated. I know we're going to get into your PhD, but you went to Stanford, and again, finding it early.
And one of the things that I always say, and I'll say to my kids and we do talk about on the podcast sometimes it's really important to find out what you don't like, and that leads you to what you like or what you're meant to. I believe in god, but the universe. I do believe we all have a path and there's a path, but not all of us find it because sometimes we don't let that curiosity go blossom. And when you said that, I literally wanted to jump out and scream because this is what I preach all the time. If you remain curious and allow yourself to kind of daydream and try and check things and do things and ask those questions, you're going to find your purpose and your passion to me faster than someone else that's not letting themselves be open.
So I love that you found that really early because again, you're doing some really important work for humankind and mankind. So we need people like you that are out there doing things like that. So what did graduate school look like? Yeah, thank you for sharing all that. Sure.
But finding meaning in life is something we all seek. And I had this idea that I wanted to study the microbes that make us sick, not just the ones that are out and about and aren't bothering us, but what about the ones that are hurting us, that make us ill? So I focused my graduate studies on medical microbiology, right? Pathogens and things, human diseases. So I applied to four different schools, and it was hard to choose Stanford over, say, University of Washington.
But I was very lucky to get into a very small group of students and what a know, it was a lot for me to handle and just the excitement, right. The amount of research going on that my professors had Nobel Prizes, and then the people sitting next to me in class were also just coming back from the Olympics and had gold medals, I kid you not, Debbie Thomas and Eric Hayden. And like, whoa, I think I'm over my head. But I stuck it out and I didn't let sort of the atmosphere of how important it was get to me. And I did my work and I studied Legionnaire's disease, actually.
And I was really interested in how a bacteria like Legionnaire's disease can get inside of a cell and live there. Right. So it lives inside of those cells in your lungs and it causes terrible pneumonia, and so how does it do that? Right? So I was very interested in the interaction of a microbe with us, with our cells, and by the time I finished, it led to more questions about, well, maybe who does this best?
And that's viruses, right? Viruses have to get inside of a cell. And so I was drawn toward Virology in 1994, and I switched my areas, I learned more things. So I feel like that's when I really found my know, every field has its kind of tribe. Well, when I found the Virology tribe, I knew I was home.
That's when it all fit together. Yeah, I found my people. I joined a terrific lab again at Stanford because this time I was married, and my husband is an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley, so we didn't want to move right away, but Stanford had so many opportunities. It wasn't a real hardship to stay, I think. And again, I think it's me now learning so much about the science world, which, again, it just opens up a whole new curiosity for me.
And speaking with our head scientist, Vicki, and learning about different labs and different things and where there are scientists that have that brain that they just want to do one thing and dig really deep. I think it's called the investigator brain. I did some stuff that they've done at NASA with brains where I'm like the direction changing brain, so I can do, like, a thousand different things really quickly, and it doesn't bother me. Right. If I had to stay one focus down to certain would, it would lose me.
So you definitely have that brain and that kind of science mind where it's like, I just want to get to the to study everything I can to kind of get to the cause of it and then have a solution. Is that what I'm hearing? It's like, how can we have a solution to help?
Again, it's one of these kind of questions that I ask, and I don't think there's a right answer or a wrong answer, but because of the way you grew up and you were allowed to flourish, that, do you feel like that that just kept feeding into it? And if you had kind of that world where people shut you down and stopped no, stop asking questions. Stop asking questions, that that would have gone dead a little bit inside, but because you had this, like, keep asking questions, and you kept getting to that next step of where you were going, right, with like, okay, my curiosity is here. I'm going to study this, I'm going to study that. Because you had confidence in what you were doing.
I mean, it really comes down to that confidence and the support that you probably had early on. But so, just as a fun thing, do you think if it was, like, smooshed down, do you think that it could have been different, or do you think it's something that's really just innate? Well, I think most humans are innately curious, but I think scientists are comfortable with the unknown. Right? So going to graduate school is where you're trained how to do experiments and how to know what we know and what we don't know.
And scientists are right at that leading edge of knowledge. And so I don't know what moment it was as a youngster that it occurred to me that I wanted to go into this unknown. But I do remember being interviewed for a scholarship. I was applying for a scholarship in college because I had no money. I could barely afford college.
I needed this scholarship, right? And so I was interviewed, and they said, Why do you want to study science, and why do you want to go on to grad school? I said, I just want to know everything about something. And I think that's that deep dive. Right.
I wanted to get to the edge of knowledge and then go another step forward. I wanted to just be adding knowledge. I think it resonated with them because I got the scholarship really helpful. But ever since then, I've tried to explain the difference between knowing a lot of stuff and being a scientist, which is knowing stuff, but being excited about what we don't know. Yeah, and I love how you just answered that, because there's a lot of people that are not okay with the unknown.
I mean, it's funny. I actually don't mind the unknown. And even though I'm not in the science world, I don't mind the unknown. I get excited about the unknown because I'm like, well, what's next? But there's so many people that you meet and we can all think about, right.
The person that was like, oh, I don't like the unknown. I like to know. I like to have control over it. I like to be like, okay, what's next? I don't like to kind of jump off.
So being a scientist, that's a huge quality. And I'm sure there's scientists that don't have that quality, and they're not going to be as successful and creative, because that is, like, the creative part of it. So now you're studying, you realize, okay, Virologist, this is what I want to do. So take us through a little bit of that part of your life. I was so lucky.
I joined a lab with a woman leading the group, and she just was fantastic. Her name was Anne Arvin, and she was just a really wonderful person to work for. She gave me lots of guidance, but also lots of freedom. And together we charted a new course, really, in science. So we were working together on the virus that caused chickenpox and shingles, and we wrote grants and had high impact papers because we were really feeling a need for new knowledge right when it was necessary.
This was in the early 90s when the chickenpox vaccine was almost approved. It was approved in 95. So we were really trying to dig into how that vaccine works, how the virus works, how can we study it. And I just got there at the right time, and we got funding. We had opportunity.
We worked with some Silicon Valley companies. We just were surrounded by greatness. There was pathologists and, oh, my gosh, everybody was there, and things clicked. They really were wonderful, and it was the best time of my scientific life. I love that.
It was really wonderful. Yeah. And you can hear it. You can feel you can feel your smile. I mean, it's just infectious.
And that is we talk about in life with really friends and anyone about you need to love what you do, but also being surrounded by people that also love what they do and have that same kind of passion and fire, it just makes it so much better. It makes it going, like where you can remember jobs. I know I've been on jobs where I loved what I did, but maybe there were some teammates that weren't very happy, and they were really negative, and it makes the day not as wonderful. So you were also on the kind of the brink of this, which, again, it's like the unknown. But what can my research do?
Where can I help? And I think, again, talking to you before, there's a service heart in you as well, and I think that comes with your field. It's not just you want to get to what it is, but it's also because you want to help and help people. Yeah. I was in the division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, and I'm not a physician myself, but I'll tell you, there's no one kinder in the world kind hearted than a pediatric infectious disease doc.
Okay? These are the saints of medicine. They like kids. They want to care for sick kids. These are the people who have a real generous heart.
And I loved working with them. I tell you, I really found my tribe. It was really remarkable how well I. Fit with this group, because I love timelines. So kind of what was your age?
It was an exciting time. I started in this lab when I was 28. Okay. And I'd been married a few years, and I had actually two children during this phase. Wow.
So. Yeah, I know. I was so tired. I had two daughters when I was 30 and 32, and I was very busy because kids, sick kids, they're always sick. It's like, oh, gee.
Again. But I felt like it was important not to sacrifice a full life. Science will take whatever you give it, and so will your family. They'll take whatever you give. But I had a lot of energy, right?
So I thought, I can do this. And in fact, I could. It was doable, but wore me down.
This is something, again, that comes up a lot in the podcast, is about being a woman and being out in the career world and raising a family. And there was a time in the it was really ninety s, two thousand s that it was like, women can do it all. And I remember I was going back to the workforce after my oldest, he was born in 2005. And I remember sitting there being like, I just always wanted to be a mom, but I feel obligated that I need to do it all because this is what and I wasn't that type of person. But I think hormones and everything was like, okay, I should just crack on, right?
And I remember my sister said to me, well, what's going to make you the best wife and mom. And I said, well, staying home. And she goes, but then what are you doing? And I literally lost it. I started crying.
I was fortunate enough that I was able to stay home, but then this is what a lot of times people think, okay, you stay home and you take yourself out of doing anything. And so those people that are listening, that maybe are young, that are like, if I take myself out of it, it's not over. And you need to ask yourself that question. What's going to make you the best wife and the mom at that moment? And if going back to work does it, because I had many friends that they were like, if I stayed home, I would not be good.
I needed to do something else for me, I needed to do that. But then look where I am now. I reinvented myself in a different way. And I shouldn't say reinvented, but I've Pivoted, and now I hold this really awesome job. I have three or four podcasts, and I'm the chief communications officer because I stayed curious and I stayed where I was like, okay, I want more.
I want to give back. I want to do things. I'm not just going to sit and be like, okay, I guess there's nothing else for me. So when you're in this time, you have two kids, young kids, you're in a job that you're loving so much, can you give a little advice to someone if you can go back and remember what were the things that saved you?
I was willing to make sacrifices, for sure. And I gave up some of my own interests, some of my own things. That what I would have liked to do. And I just put those on hold. So I don't think you can do it all all at the same time.
Exactly. So I really prioritized, and I thought, okay, I'm going to keep my kids healthy, happy, I'm going to keep my job going, but I'm not going to have a dog, right? No dog. No dog. My yard, my house wasn't that beautiful.
I couldn't be spectacular in every way, right? So I just picked the two main things. I was going to be good at home, good with my family, and good at work. But I wasn't going to just be the perfect woman, right? That's too much pressure.
You're not making the perfect cupcakes. Going to school and making the perfect hair. Be whatever. Nails, no clothes, not a thing. I just focused on the things that I needed that were important to me.
And then as my kids got older and more independent, I could add in slowly, slowly, a few of those things that mattered more to me. Time with friends, just things that I wanted to do. Physical fitness or something. I couldn't do it all at once. So don't pressure yourself.
It's too hard. And to live up to other people's expectations is impossible, just impossible. It's impossible. And one of the things that you just said that I absolutely loved is again, right, you can't do it all, and you can do it all, but not all at once, right? And I think that's really important.
But what I hear from you is that you were also living the best life in those two things. You were getting fulfillment from your job, you were getting fulfillment from your family. And so if someone's listening to this, like, okay, I'm trying that, but I'm not feeling it, there's something that needs to change. Right. You probably don't have that reevaluate right.
And I've worked with people in the past where it was like, okay, they had a job because of the money, but they didn't love it, and so they weren't feeling fulfilled. So the rest of their life kind of was like and I would say you need to find that passion, whether it's little, right? If it's like, I'm going to make sure I can garden every other day because that gives you joy, you need to do that. You need to find those little things. And I don't know why I said gardening because I actually don't garden at all.
So it's kind of OD that I said that, but my husband does the gardening if that's something that brings him joy. But so it is kind of one of those things that you had passion and kind of purpose in both of those. So you were able to be like, okay, these are my two goals, and I can just go 1000 miles ahead on both of them and feel good about everything else. So I think it's really important information and kind of advice that you just gave, because it is you have to kind of gut check yourself and see where you are. That's right.
And I never lost sight of my ultimate goal, which was that 20 year old who thought, oh, I want to be a scientist, I want to be the supervisor, I want to be the leader of a group of scientists. And I never lost sight of that. It never faded. Right? And so I was in my postdoc, and my kids are now one and three or two and four.
And I'm talking to my boss and she says, hey, I would love for you to stay in my lab forever because we work so well together. But she said, you're ambitious and I'm going to help you find a job to fulfill your ambition. And she did. She wrote me a glowing letter and helped me with my job search, and she really supported me to become a professor again. So you had another person that saw you and wasn't selfish, was like, I want to help, because you could have had someone that was like, I'm just going to keep her because I'm selfish and she's making my job easier.
But she saw. You for who you were and was like, I need to let this person soar that's beautiful. Yeah. And I still admire her so much. We've, of course, stayed in touch, but she is just exactly that kind of person that she wants to lift people up and not hold them back.
But I'll tell you, the year that I looked for faculty jobs was one of the hardest because I flew across the country ten times. I had little kids at home. They had always had ear infections. I mean, it was winter. It was tough, really tough.
But I just was so determined, this is my destiny. And my husband was on board. He was like, yeah, we're going to do this. That's amazing.
Take us down this next kind of next pivot in your life. Yeah, well, I interviewed here at SUNY Upstate in Syracuse, New York, and it just really felt good. This is a place where people are not workaholics. Right. We work hard, but it's not a pressure cooker.
Right. It's a pretty reasonable environment, and it's affordable. It's not crowded. There's not a lot of traffic. It's friendly.
So I like this place, and it has super schools, fantastic education. So we all moved here in 1999, and it was the best thing for our family. Now being a true Californian and the weather there, we can all think about that. That's great. And then moving into upstate New York, where you do not have that kind of weather, was that a big adjustment for everyone?
Or again, were you saw what you were doing there? So it kind of was like, this is part of it. Well, I definitely bought more wool sweaters and boots and mittens of all kinds. So we have all kinds of snow shovels now. But I love the snow.
I grew up skiing, and I love the so here. We're very close to lakes and mountains and lovely country. In fact, my family started out in upstate New York after the Revolutionary War. They were given land here, and my great great grandfather came from here to move to San Diego in 1907. But I have relatives here still.
Oh, that's amazing. It just felt like home. It's like these are the family recipes. Everybody cooks this way around here, and it's like, oh, I think these are my people. Yeah.
So you found your people again. I did, which is beautiful. Now you have a one. These are now four and two. Two?
Yeah, four and two. So still very young and still I always say to parents, that's the kind of when you're in the weeds, but you're also on this journey to reach these amazing goals and have this, where now you can also make an even more impact. And so your husband's on board. So what did it look like for him? Because I always kind of love to hear that.
Yeah, he was working for a big company at the time in california called a chip company. I won't name it, but they allowed him to work remotely in 1999 when nobody did that. So they set him up with a home office. He did a lot of remote meetings, and he did that for nine years. And that's one of the things they saw.
A good person. They didn't want to let him go and knew that, okay, this is the family's dream. Let's figure this out. And that's what sometimes people don't do. They don't do the figuring out.
They don't think past, well, wait a second. I know it's not normal or not everyone has done it, or it's protocol, but let's think outside the box and see what we can do. So I think that's amazing. So he was kind of on his changing routes a little bit because now he's working remote, had to kind of figure things out. Again, not in California where the weather is different.
But when you were in college, kind of in the northern part of California, did that remind you a little bit of upstate New York as well? Well, in fact, Davis is Flat central Valley Agricultural. It's more like Kansas than here. But I was able to go from there up to the mountains a lot. So I still did a lot of skiing and mountain biking and that kind of thing in California.
Yeah, my husband and I loved mountain biking and a lot of skiing. So we love here because so many things are close by, we can ski 20 minutes down the road, and it's even easier now than in California, right? I'm sure, yeah. And then, just as you said, the community, there's so much to offer in that area, and you're in the cold, but it's the snow, and so it's wonderful. Like, where I am, it's cold and there's no snow, and sometimes it's like, what's the point?
We like snow. We want more snow. Yeah, I love snow. Yes. So the girls were little, and they got started here in the schools and, oh, my gosh, what great schools they are.
So in terms of for us, this was a much better place, and we all thrived here, so it was not I don't miss some of those things about California. It's expensive, it's crowded, and it's not always very friendly, so that's not the. Case here, which is beautiful. So take us to your first kind of two weeks month of teaching. How did that look?
Yeah. They give you a little bit of time to get your feet on the ground here. But I was very interested in teaching, and I volunteered to teach. And so I teach in the medical school. I teach them all about viruses, and I also teach in the grad school where I teach more about how to approach scientific problems, how to study viruses and so on.
I love it. In fact, I've just become a much more proficient teacher. In the beginning, you make mistakes. Like, you want to uncover everything and try to include too much, and you go too fast, and it's just too much. Now I can just pull back a little bit, and I know where to focus, and I know how to get the students engaged.
So it's one of my favorite parts of my job. I really love it. I want to take this on a little pivot, because one of the things that we really connected on that I absolutely loved is that when you moved again, as you kind of painted the picture, you added a little things back into life that meant something to you. When you moved to upstate New York, and you were like, okay, I can see my kids are now going to preschool and doing these other things. They're in the school system.
So you had a little bit extra time? Possibly. I mean, sometimes it's a little bit even busier then. But what did you do for yourself, and where did that take you? I work with mainly men, and I wanted to make some girlfriends.
Right. I needed to find some other women, so I tried a bunch of things. I tried the YMCA, I tried the aerobics classes. I tried all kinds of things. And at one of my fitness classes, a woman comes up to me and says, hey, you look strong.
I said, oh, thank you. She said, Would you like to try rowing? I said, okay, yeah, okay, that sounds good. So when the lakes melted and we could row, I joined up with her, and we learned to row on one of the local lakes. It changed my life.
And this woman is still one of my best friends. Right. So I got what I needed, which is I met some friends, and these are women who like to be outside, who aren't obsessed about their look at that moment. They're all beautiful, I think, but pretty, real, pretty authentic people and willing to put up with some discomfort in order to make the boat move. And I just loved it.
I really found the people that I appreciated, my level of intensity. Not everybody can handle it, but they can. And we have beautiful lakes here, so it was stunning. Eagles flying overhead.
How long into being in upstate New York did that kind of did you find that? So that was in 2001. I'd only been here a couple of years, and that's when I discovered rowing, and I've never looked back. It's been one of my major pastimes ever since. Right.
And I think it's not just a pastime. Can you take I'm obsessed? Yes, but you're also quite good at it, and you have a group that's good at it, and you guys have won some awards. It's more than just a hobby. Yes.
Well, when my kids were little, I would row, and my husband would watch them, and then we'd switch, and I'd watch them, and he'd get to go out and do what he likes, which is windsurfing and running and so on. So we shared our time, and I became better and better at rowing, and I didn't really get as intense about it until my daughter got older, and she's a very good rower. And then I got more into it and just started thinking, gosh, I am going to enter a bunch of races. So I started winning. I have a bunch of medals now.
And then recently, I joined sort of a team that's based all over the country. So it's people who are maybe reached sort of the top of their own home club, and now they want a little bit more. So with this virtual club, I've been going to international races. Yeah. So we went to the World Masters Championship in France, and I won a gold medal, so I'm a world champion.
I mean, who would have thought, right, that in your 50s you can get to that level in any sport. It was just blew my mind. And recently, I went to Boston and rode in a very big race in the United States called the Head of the Charles Regatta. And wouldn't you know, four of us, really small, little lightweight women, we got a silver medal at the Head of the Charles. I'd never done so well, so it's motivating right now.
I train a lot and do it for my team when we meet up. Everybody's been doing their work, and we get together and we go really fast. Well, no, that's incredible. And one of the things that I think is so important and then I love just meeting people, that when you say or you have a goal and you say you're going to do it, you fulfill it, right? And so you're finding that on so many different levels.
I mean, you found it professionally, but then it was like, okay, I want to do something a little bit more. I want to meet people. I want to be outside. And it was like, again, your curiosity allowed you because someone might say your friend could have came up to you, and you've been like, I've never done that. I'm not doing that right.
And you let fear stop you and not take you to the next thing. And now you're a gold and silver medalist. Two incredible things. Not only that, but you're also a world renowned virologist doing some crazy, amazing things where you're saving people, you're helping people. You're helping people not suffer.
And so I, when we spoke, was fascinated with that. I just said there's levels of people, and I think we all think there's some of us that high achieve for everything. There's some that high achieve for everything. And maybe they go a little bit below right there's, the ABC kind of d. There's people that don't really achieve anything because they let that fear kind of do.
Maybe they have it inside, but they don't let them do it. And so it always fascinates me kind of what people's makeups are and what kind of red line connected all those dots. Someone could say, oh, you were in the right place at the right time. Right? But you worked hard, hard at everything you did, and you didn't let life events or life things when, as you said, Stanford, you felt intimidated, you could have been like, I'm going to leave, right?
I'm not winning, but now you're winning gold medals. You could go right back. But so those are all the things that people think about, right? And we don't allow ourselves to be like, I can and I'm going to. I think it requires a willingness to put in the time because this success did not happen overnight.
But I think I'm willing to take feedback and use the information I'm getting to adjust and to learn and to try to incrementally improve. I've been rowing for 20 years now, and so it took a long time to get to this point. I didn't have time before. I didn't have the money to put into the sport. And as with age, things can shift.
And so I would say, don't give up early just because you're not successful right away. Sometimes things take a lot longer. Learning a language, playing in a musical instrument, or becoming a good cook, or learning how to knit a sweater. I don't know. Things take time and it's worth failing or not winning a few times.
Yeah. And I just I don't try to be amazing at everything, right. I focus my energy. I'm not a very good runner. My husband will tell me I'm not a good runner, but I somehow rowing.
I am I am pretty good. And I think I don't stop when it hurts. Keep going. I can just say, okay, that's just my body's saying ouch. But I don't have to stop when it starts to hurt.
So that's what I see in people who persist is the discomfort doesn't scare them off. What does it feel like when you're in the boat on the water, and you can just let your mind kind of go, what are the thoughts that are there? So when you row, you don't get to see everything, right? You're facing backwards, so you listen, you feel. You can feel and sense things.
You can hear the sounds of the other rowers and the sounds of the oars in the water. And when everybody does it together, the boat just picks up and glides. It's like it finally found the harmony. It's really amazing feeling. We don't get it every time, but it's worth everybody focusing and it drives away other thoughts.
So when I'm in the boat, it gives me mental clarity because I only have this one thing to do, which is to focus on my body and space and the rhythm and the effort. It just clears my head completely. So it's a sport where you can get kind of okay at it in a year or two, but a lifetime it takes to master things like golf or tennis are like that. Downhill skiing, it just takes a long time to feel like you're at the expert level. I love that.
And I could see you out there, and I can feel it. And one of the things I think is beautiful is that your girls got to see you, right? They got to see you in the lab. They got to see you kind of following a passion there, and then they got to see you later in life, be like, I'm going to kind of explore here. So you gave them the ability to be curious and the ability to try things and go out and kind of go for it.
So I know you said both of your girls did row and do row and then your one daughter. Can you take us through that a little bit? Because this was, again, super fascinating, right. You never know what children you'll be given, right? So you take the ones you have, and we're so grateful.
So my older daughter, spectacular kid, right? And then her younger sister was just so much bigger. So my youngest was so tall, literally 6ft tall by the time she was 13 years old. Yeah, what do you do with a kid? And you're like, hey.
And I'm looking up at her. So she was very tall, spectacularly, and she tried a lot of sports, so she was trying out basketball and so on. And I said, hey, let's try rowing. And so we got her rowing, and she was the fastest kid in the county, right? Instantly, she just had leverage.
She got onto the high school rowing team, and I also got her introduced to the United States rowing team. So by the time she was 15, she was on the United States Junior Rowing team. Wow, she was that fast. She was winning races on the rowing machine and breaking American records. And I had no idea, right?
I didn't know how to support a kid with that level of talent. So I did my best. I asked a lot of coaches what to do. I tried to figure this out. And we got her situated, junior World Champion.
Then all this colleges are interested in her, so I had to take her everywhere around the country. I had coaches calling me. It was difficult that year of her looking at colleges. So she eventually settled on Cal Berkeley and was a D one athlete for four years, and then in the summers rode for the United States. And so I always think, and I don't know if you think this way, so you tell me if the science brain goes this way, or is it the way my kind of communication brains go?
But I do believe that you were meant to row for a reason, because it wasn't just fulfilling something for you. But it was also going to be her path. And maybe if you never did it, it would never have been introduced to her. If you guys never moved to upstate New York, this dot wouldn't have gotten connected. And so I think that's what is so beautiful.
It gave her this confidence in a different way, where it gave you this fulfillment at an age that you were like, okay, I just want to meet people. And now, oh my gosh, look what I can do. And I'm going to be 50 this year. And it's funny. At the gym today, I just did like, a crazy amount of pull ups, and I didn't think I was like, yeah.
I was like, yeah, look at me, 50. I'm getting stronger and better with age, and I love that. And I think it's such an important message for women, especially nowadays, where it's like, okay, age is such a number, and it's not it's a mindset. It's like, you take care of yourself and you're just going to get better and better. So I absolutely love everything that you're bringing and everything to the story, and I think it's fascinating.
So I also want to ask you now, when you're in the lab, where is your mind? Where does that go? What is the feeling when you first walk in there and you know you have some really important work? I am still in the lab, right? Some professors have people who take care of everything.
I still do some of our experiments, the ones that might still need me. Right. It is so absorbing the work is really important that we're doing. So we're testing antiviral drugs for companies and scientists who create things invent things, but then they need scientists to find out if they're going to be useful. So I feel like I play a key role, and I come into the lab and I'm like, okay, I need to do my best work, the absolute best work.
There's no room for being distracted. There's no room for being wasteful or sloppy. You have to bring your best work. And so that requires preparation, planning, double checks. You work together as a team.
You want lots of eyes on the work so that it's even better. We really just have high standards. So that's something in my life that applies really everywhere. I do have high standards. I don't do sloppy.
Right. So that's what I bring to the things I care about. It's really that attention and just the desire to do the best work I can. And again, because you're doing really important stuff, and I'm going to bring it back to the work that you were doing for FetTech with Shingles. And that's when we first again got to meet you.
And some of the findings that came out of that. If we didn't have you, where would. It well, I'm the only lab in the world that can test these compounds, these drugs for effectiveness, for Shingles, the only one in the world. Can you take us through that a little? So, you know, back when I was at Stanford in my postdoc, one of my first projects was to develop a system to study this virus.
And the virus causes chickenpox. We all know that causes Shingles, but it only grows in humans. And therefore, we couldn't use a lot of other mice or something. We couldn't do a lot of things because it's just a human virus. So my job was to develop a small model to study it in mice that have a little bit of human skin engrafted in the mouse.
And in fact, it worked beautifully, even way back in the 90s. So that was my invention, my discovery, and I am still using it. I'm still the world expert in using these systems to study treatments for Shingles. There's no other place you can do it? No.
And again, it's so finished because I want you to finish. Yeah. Well, luckily, in our country, NIH supports so much research, and they have a division that is there to help small groups like chemists and companies bring their products forward. So these are treatments for all kinds of viral diseases, not just mine, but I'm in a group called the Collaborative Antiviral Testing Group, and it's nationwide. It's a handful of us, and we are now contractors of the NIH.
And we are part of a system where a chemist says, I think this is good stuff. It gets tested in cells, and then it gets maybe a hit. And that's what happened with FetTech. There was a hit. Right?
It's like, wow, this looks really good. And then they contact the next level, and I'm that next level. So I can then take compounds that show promise and test them in a human skin system. This is normal human skin, and we get it from cosmetic surgery, and we get it from our surgeons here at the hospital, and we can study the virus in the place it wants to be. It wants to be in a piece of skin, and it's like, okay, let's go.
It tries to grow. Boom. We hit it with an antiviral drug or a treatment or substance and see, okay, what does that do? Is it any good? And you don't want to do that on people.
Right? So I've developed so many aspects of this system. It's really complex. It isn't just something I can write it out like a recipe and hand it over. It requires judgment and assessment and experience to get it right.
And so that's what I mean by, like, okay, we're going to do this correctly and right every time, because it's super hard. Right? And the work that you're doing is really important work for mankind. No, I mean, it definitely is, but this is what I want people to take out of this, is that you're doing this high level work. Yes, you're a high achiever, but you're also a very hard worker and those things kind of come together.
You high achiever, hard worker, you're going to get something pretty fantastic. But there's many different sides of you, right? You're a mother, you're a wife, you're a professor, you're a scientist, you're a world class rower, you're a world class virologist. And sometimes we need to kind of think about ourselves in that and give ourselves some credit where maybe we don't think we deserve it. And I think when you can kind of give yourself a little pat on the back and say, yes, I'm doing really important things and I know it's uncomfortable because it's uncomfortable for you to sit and say these things, but this is what I want the audience to listen to.
Like what you're doing at the levels that you're doing are just thank you, because we need people like you. We need people out there, but we also need that drive and that fire. And I wanted to bring the other side of the story because we could talk about the science side now that I kind of understand a little bit of it and I'm interested in it, but what I wanted to bring the audience is also the realness the real human behind it. Yeah, science is done by real people and we are human. We have our weaknesses and our failures, but we also have incredible drive and persistence and eagerness to contribute.
And so I actually feel so much gratitude and privilege that I get to do this job. Really, the public has supported me. I work on public funds to do this work, and it's really an honor to get to do that. I have the trust of people, the big people, to do this work, and it is very motivating. It also makes you not want to live in the past because things are exciting now.
I mean, life gets better. There's a lot to look forward to. And my real passion really still is I want to contribute to a project that leads to people getting treatment. I really do. That would be something that would be a goal.
We just show up every day. We just keep showing up and seeing if we can make a difference that day. And that's what I think is important. You show up and see if you can make a difference that day. You have big goals, you have big aspirations, but you show up and make a difference that day.
And that's what it takes little steps to make big. So, you know, thank you, Dr. Moffat, so much for joining Masterminds in. Oh, well, it's really been my pleasure. I hope your message reaches lots of people.
I think it will. And thank you again. Your story is know what to do. Rate Review Share you don't know who is listening to this that needs to hear it. You're listening to this.
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