When I told my older daughter Kadri at the end of May that I had just learned that I was awarded a Fulbright award, she asked that would I ever had guessed when I started out on my Ph.D quest so many years ago that I would end up here, that is, going to Estonia to do research for a half year at Tartu University as a Fulbright Scholar? I have to admit, it has not been a charted course. As I tell my students, one cannot always expect to take a straight line to reach a certain end-point, but rather one needs to be flexible and make your choices, as new possibilities arise. So it has been for me.
For my undergraduate years I started out as a biology major at Russell Sage College in Troy, New York. The Biology Department had excellent women
professors in that department. Especially influential for me was Dr. Gertrude Heidenthal who received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago under the population geneticist Sewell Wright. She also took a lot of her courses with the well-known embryologist Dr. Paul Weiss. Although she did not do her dissertation with Weiss, she took all of the courses that he had to offer in the field of embryology. This field became known later as developmental biology. Dr. Heidenthal made developmental biology exciting. She was the one to give me my first opportunity to do research, a Senior Honor’s Research project analyzing eye pigments of several different mutants of the small parasitic wasp Habrobracon. I was hooked on research!!
After graduating, I married my husband Jüri Linask and joined him at UCLA. While Jüri was finishing his Ph.D., I got my M.A. at UCLA in Developmental Biology and then worked in a cancer research lab at the USC Medical School in Los Angeles. We returned East to Philadelphia, PA where Juri became a postdoc with Dr. Gilbert Ling at the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Hospital. So began our life in the Philadelphia area. After our move, I first taught on a college level in the Biology Department at Holy Family College. I was 24 years old and looked the same age as my students! I loved teaching. During this time, I had my two daughters and afterwards continued to teach part-time. I then interrupted my career path to stay home with my daughters for three years. It is during this break that I realized I wanted to get my Ph.D. and to stay in academics.
The same day that my younger daughter started kindergarten, I started at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of Biology. I decided, however, to do my Ph.D. with Dr. James C. Lash who was in the Department of Anatomy in the College of Medicine (now it is called the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology). Interestingly, Jay had gotten his degree in Embryology from the University of Chicago under Paul Weiss, but at least 20 years after Dr. Heidenthal.
When I received my degree, my children were now in middle school and high school and it was not a good time to move. Jüri was also at the University of Pennsylvania. I then proceeded to do a postdoctoral fellowship in signal transduction, but still in a developmental context working on palate development with Bob Greene at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. I then got my first independent faculty position in the Division of Cardiology, Department of Pediatrics at University of Pennsylvania with my lab at the Research Institute of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). From CHOP, I continued moving up the academic ladder next at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ image on right) where I was tenured and from there I was recruited to my present position in Florida.
Where I am now is in an endowed chair position as a tenured Mason Professor of Cardiovascular Research in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of South Florida (USF). I was invited in the Spring of 2011 to consider going to Tartu University to do stem cell related research using my background in multipotential pre-cardiomyocyte differentiation. Although I grew up in the United States, I have an Estonian background and speak Estonian fluently. As a result, I was quite motivated to apply. Fulbright representatives came to USF and provided information on the program. I checked out the Fulbright website where all necessary forms and info can be found. Applications were due in August 2011. Last winter I learned that I had passed the screening of candidates in the U.S. and my papers were forwarded to Tartu University. There the list was narrowed down and the finalist list was sent back to the U.S. In May I learned of my having received the award.
Although I have been to Estonia a number of times, it has been for brief trips. I am quite excited about being able to live there for an extended time…and to carry out research and give lectures! So this blog is to share my experiences with my friends and colleagues and to keep in touch. I hope that you will also leave comments and share your life with me.