Chapter 03: Coming to MD Anderson: First Woman Chair; Setting Up a Laboratory, Leading a Department; Clinical Applications of Research

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Chapter 03: Coming to MD Anderson: First Woman Chair; Setting Up a Laboratory, Leading a Department; Clinical Applications of Research

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In this segment, Dr. Kripke covers her arrival at MD Anderson (Hospital and Tumor Institute) in 1983 to establish a new Department of Immunology. She addresses gender issues very forthrightly: she is very proud of the fact that she was 39 when she came to MD Anderson as a department chair; the first woman chair of a department and the first women who was a tenured full professor in a research department. She recalls speaking with Dr. Charles LeMaistre about her two concerns: being a Ph.D. in a clinical, medical environment and being a woman in an environment that was much more male-oriented than NCI-Frederick. She tells anecdotes to flesh out the latter view. She offers examples of the practical challenges she faced while setting up a scientific research laboratory in an environment that is designed for clinical activity (noting that “starting a laboratory is like starting a small business”). She makes additional comments on the persistence of challenges to women, though she notes that the Vice President of Research, Frederick Becker, was a “true champion of women in the institution,” who made sure she had opportunities to progress. (She notes that new basic science departments were being created in the 80s, and in fact the Department of Immunology was “a little late in coming” to MD Anderson.) She talks about being pleasantly surprised that she enjoyed teaching and then outlines the goals she had as Chair of the Department. (She also talks about building a program that would integrate immunology into other cancer approaches housed in Research Building 1 on the South Campus.)

Identifier

Kripke,M_01_20120328_S03

Publication Date

3-28-2012

Publisher

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - View on Career and Accomplishments; Career and Accomplishments; Joining MD Anderson; Experiences re: Gender, Race, Ethnicity; Portraits; MD Anderson Snapshot; Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion; The Leader; The Researcher; Career and Accomplishments; MD Anderson History; Building/Transforming the Institution; Multi-disciplinary Approaches; Growth and/or Change

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Do you want to move now to MD Anderson and talk a bit?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Sure.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Okay, so you came to MD Anderson in 1983, and I was uncertain, were you hired with tenure?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Oh, yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Okay. I was uncertain from the—so you were the Kathryn O'Connor Research Professor and chair of the brand-new Department of Immunology. So again—

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


I’m very proud of the fact that I was 39 when I came here as department chair. I turned 40 the next week, but still.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


That is great. Congratulations in retrospect. So again, starting something from scratch, first woman department head at MD Anderson.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


I found out subsequently that I was also the first tenured full professor in a research department at MD Anderson. I hadn’t known that until recent years. There weren’t very many of us and, actually, that was one of my concerns. When we were interviewed to come here I actually asked the president. He said, “Do you have any concerns about coming here?” and I said, “Yes, I think that there are two huge obstacles. One is not being a physician in an environment that is really physician dominated, so being a PhD in a medical establishment is somewhat disconcerting.” And I said, “And second, being a woman in this context,” where it was clear that it was very, very male oriented, much more so than Frederick was, that was that going to be an insurmountable difficulty. The president’s response was “Well, why don’t you talk to my assistant about this?”

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


And this was Charles LeMaistre, of course, at the time, right?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Yeah. He was a delightful, delightful southern gentleman, but he couldn’t quite get used to the idea that I thought of myself as being self-sufficient. He always wanted to provide assistance and open the door and hold my chair and make sure that I was not walking down the street by myself at night or something like that. He was a great gentleman, is a great gentleman.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Now, you said that the issues around being a woman were much more palpable here in Houston than they were in Frederick. How did that manifest itself when you first arrived?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Well, it was just perfectly obvious. All you had to do was look around, and the fact that I did know that I was the first chair of an academic department who was female, that there had been, of course, a head of nursing who was female. There were some other women, prominent women in the institution, but none had ever been an academic department head. I was continually the only woman in the room when I was at a meeting of department heads or activities, committees and things that were populated by senior leadership.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Now, as you went about setting up your lab from scratch I kind of want to hear about that process, if you’d like to cover that, and then maybe you could comment along the way on whether or not you ran into any difficulties in leadership in that position as you were setting up the lab in this brand-new department.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


I don’t think there were any difficulties that were unique to women. It was very hard from a remote site trying to organize research things in an environment that was—and to some extent still is—totally geared to the hospital. And so everything is organized and set up according to running a clinical department, not running a research department.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


What are some of the differences so that I can get a handle on that?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


I’ll give you a recent example, visas for students. The administrative structure—the administration in most clinical departments is not set up to deal with all of the nuances and intricacies of bringing people into a laboratory who have visa issues. They’re not accustomed to having visiting scientists and graduate students and whatever, and so there are no mechanisms set up to facilitate that, and to some extent that’s still true in the clinical departments. It’s not true in the research departments, but it is still true in the clinical departments. But again, everything is geared toward hospital practice, and I had come from a purely research institute, so this is very different, really different. Purchasing, for example, was geared toward bringing in supplies and doing all kinds of things for the hospital. It wasn’t really used to bringing things in on dry ice for research purposes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


So really practical issues.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Just basic, practical things were at least initially quite frustrating.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


How did you go about resolving those?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Well, we asked—Josh and I both asked the president to arrange for us an orientation with the head of finance, the head of purchasing, all of the service kinds of parts of the organization so that we could figure out how to get things done. It was very difficult to get anything done and to get any information. And again, being in a remote location did not help that situation, but they were very accommodating. That gave us the opportunity to meet with the head of personnel, the head of purchasing and so on and have a go-to person to help facilitate getting things organized so that was very—I think really crucial in terms of getting us finally up and running.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


A couple of follow ups on some details. When you expressed that concern to Charles LeMaistre that there would be a different way of looking at you because you had a PhD rather than an MD how did that resolve itself? Was your fear well-founded?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


It’s hard to tell because my style of managing things is to simply not pay any attention to it, and so was my progress impeded versus a clinician? I don’t know because I wasn’t in that context. Was it impeded versus a male counterpart? I don’t think so, but it was a concern. I do feel that women are not taken as seriously as men are administratively, scientifically, clinically.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


And you’re using the present tense.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Yes, yes, and I think it’s more apparent to me now that I have been in a leadership role in the institution than it was at the time.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Do you think there have been changes in that since 1983?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Yes, and I should say that the person to whom I reported when I first arrived was the vice president for research, and he was extremely supportive and extremely careful never to make me feel like I was a second-class citizen in any way.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


And this is Frederick Becker.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Yes, and he was very supportive of his women faculty members and was really a true champion of women in the institution, and he probably made it possible for me to do things. He appointed me to head one the of prestigious committees in the institution as the department head, so he made sure that I had opportunities to progress, and I think that was really very important.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


I had a question on just the fact that MD Anderson was setting up a department of immunology in 1983. Were they ahead of the curve? What other significant departments of immunology were being set up? Why, then, aside from the fact that you and Dr. Fidler were available to come?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


I don’t know the answer to that because they had started recruiting for a head of immunology quite some time before Josh and I came here, and so they were obviously looking to start a department of immunology. I think it has to do with just the evolution of basic science at MD Anderson, and that was largely Dr. Becker’s initiative, and so there were a limited number of departments, so it was a time when new, basic science departments were being created, and immunology has certainly been a major player in the cancer field for a long time. It wasn’t that timely. I think it was a little late in coming probably to MD Anderson, but that has to do with simply the evolution of basic science and the timing of the development of science.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


And I should just take a moment to mention for the record you’ve mentioned Josh several times, and I say Joshua Fidler, who runs the cancer metastasis lab and is your husband, because we hadn’t mentioned his full name and title at this point.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


But I know you’ve interviewed him.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Yes, yes, I have. I’m just mentioning that for the sake of the recorder.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Understood.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Is there anything that you’d like to say about that time of setting up the lab in terms of what your goals were when you first came? What were your goals as chair?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Well, that’s a double question because there were goals in setting up the laboratory, and when I came the laboratory was not built, so I was in kind of temporary space. I brought with me one person who had been my postdoctoral in Frederick, and so he came and helped set up the laboratory, and I’d had another scientist who worked with me in Frederick who had previously moved to Houston and was interested in coming back to my laboratory, and so I had 2 people whom I knew well and collaborated with, had collaborated with, who came as the starting—founding members of first of the laboratory and then the department.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


And who were they?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Steven Ullrich.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


And he was the grad student, the postdoctoral?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


He was my postdoctoral fellow. He is now the Ad Interim Chair of Immunology, and a doctor named Honnavara Ananthaswamy, who retired about 2 years ago as a full professor at MD Anderson, and we remain good friends to this day, and we were scientific collaborators for many, many years. There were goals for setting up the laboratory and for establishing my own research, and then there were goals for recruiting people into the department and really trying to build a department of basic immunology.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Tell me about those goals in the 2 different areas.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Well, the laboratory goals were to organize things in a way that we would be able to continue the research, and part of that involved setting up an animal facility, building and setting up an animal facility and finding the people to run it in the way that we had previously experienced in Frederick. We had a wonderful animal facility there and were interested in trying to duplicate that in Houston and so that was a long, lengthy process and—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


What were some of the features you were trying to replicate? I don’t know anything about the issue of animal facilities.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


There’s a pathogen-free animal facility, which means that the animals have a defined body flora. They’re not germ-free. They have bacteria and viruses, but they are the kind that live in your body normally. They are tested and known to be free of all exogenous pathogens, and we insisted on having that kind of an animal facility when many places have only conventional animals. You bring animals in, you take them out. It’s not a big deal. But this is a very controlled facility with limited access, and animals don’t have to be quarantined before they can go in or out. It’s a very—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Sure for immunology it’s—

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Yes, it was a very serious operation. It turns out that most—many animal facilities are pathogen-free facilities because it’s been shown that, particularly for immunology studies and for cancer studies, you really need to have that, otherwise your results are clouded by pathogens in the facility.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Were there any other goals for setting up a lab that you were working on?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Well, I was also very interested in teaching. I’d not had an opportunity to participate in any teaching previously, so I was very interested in the graduate program and so one of my goals was to become involved—there was a multi-departmental monthly institutional graduate program in immunology, and so one of the first things that I did was to join the immunology program and develop some leadership in the area of basic immunology for MD Anderson. The program previously was centered primarily at Baylor and had some people from the UT Health Sciences Center, a few people—maybe a handful of people from MD Anderson. And so that did change during my tenure as chair of immunology, and I have also started doing some formal teaching in immunology when we—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


How did you find that?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


I loved it. That was great. It was really extremely rewarding. I loved the students, and I loved the teaching part of it.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Are you one of the kinds of teachers whose teaching feeds their research and vice versa?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Well, that’s pretty much the way it works because in order to train graduate students they have to have a research laboratory/research experience, so yes, but I like the didactic—the formal didactic training and teaching people the history of how immunology worked and how transplantation immunology developed and how to give a presentation and how to design an experiment and what are the appropriate controls that one uses, so that part of it was very appealing to me.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Was that a surprise?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Yes, actually. Yeah. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, and that was the one thing that I was really very reluctant to give up when I moved to full-time administration. That was one of the harder things. I did make a lot of research progress once I came to MD Anderson, so we had the dual responsibility of running our own research operation plus running a department with other principal investigators. To start a laboratory is really like starting a small business. It’s like a small business enterprise. You have to have—you hire people and fire people, and you have to have the supply chain, and you have to make sure the supplies get there and everything. It really is like running a small business, and so you have to do that, plus you have to help half a dozen other people run their own small businesses and get them started and find them and recruit them and so on, so it was very all-consuming probably for the first 5 or 6 years.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Oh, interesting. For that long?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Because that kind of goes to the recruiting issue you were talking about earlier that part of your goal was to recruit people for the department. Can you tell me about that process? What did you want to accomplish with your recruiting program?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Well, I wanted to make sure that there were people working on different aspects of immunology than what I was interested in, and particularly I was interested in bringing in some people who did human immunology since I am a mouse doctor and all of our models were in animals. I thought it would be important to branch out so that we actually had something to do with real human immunology, so that’s part of what I was looking for. Mostly I was looking for people who had excellent training, excellent backgrounds, and who had a real talent for research. And again, I must say that I learned a lot from that experience. I am not a very good recruiter. I like everybody. I like to—I hate not to hire someone, and so I’m not the best judge of who to hire either administratively or scientifically, and so I learned a lot from the process, made a number of mistakes, moved on and whatever.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


Who were some of the people that you hired at the time to round out the focus of the immunology department?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Oh, goodness. It’s been an awfully long time, a long time ago. I think there are still 2 faculty—well, counting Steve Ullrich there are 3 faculty members who are there whom I hired at some point during my tenure as department head, and I think all the rest of them were hired by my successor in that role.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


And who was your successor?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


Yong-Jun Liu, L-I-U, and I always said that the best thing I ever did for the Department of Immunology was to resign as chair and to recruit him as chair, and I still absolutely firmly believe that. He has recently left to take a position running a research institute in Dallas, actually, and he is a human immunologist, very forward thinking, works on those funny cells in the skin of other places that initiate the immune response, and he was very interested in building a program that would have an application of the basic science findings in clinical trials, in clinical medicine, and so it was an extremely—it is probably my last great immunological experiment in hiring Yong-Jun and trying to set up really a program in—multidisciplinary program in immunology. They were recruiting for a head of melanoma in medicine, and they recruited a person who is interested in immunological treatment of melanoma. The same thing happened with lymphoma. The head of lymphoma is also part of the immunology program, and then there was a person here in bone marrow transplant who was also interested in cancer vaccines and developing immunological treatments for cancer, and so that was really Young-Jun’s vision was to have that kind of a program of science where everybody had their own laboratory, but the goal was to take the laboratory findings and get them into clinical medicine, and they succeeded beyond anybody’s wildest dreams, I think, and so that was a very, very successful program. Building that program—we put it in a new building, and we had space, a beautiful new space to house it in—was a grand experiment which I think is probably one of my better ones.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


What was the new building?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


It’s the South Campus Research Building 1. I was involved in the design and organization of the building, and I did talk them into putting an auditorium and cafeteria and stuff in the middle section of that building when the second half was built, so that, as I say, remains my great immunological experiment.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


I read that when you came to MD Anderson you were really aware of the fact that you had to—in your words—come up to speed to work in clinical situations.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


I said that? Yeah, I guess so. No, I don’t—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


You don’t think so? Okay.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


That does not sound like me.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


It doesn’t sound like you. (laughter)

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


I never worked in a clinical situation.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:


No, that you hadn’t, so that you needed to come up to speed to get used to dealing with that situation.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D:


When I became an administrator, not when I was head of immunology. I mean, I had some sensitivity to the fact that we were in a hospital, and we should hire people who knew something about human immunology, but getting up to speed on clinical issues is what happened when I became a vice president—

Chapter 03: Coming to MD Anderson: First Woman Chair; Setting Up a Laboratory, Leading a Department; Clinical Applications of Research

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