As Lynne Maquat’s years of dedication to her research catapult her into the scientific spotlight, she remains intently focused on training and encouraging the next wave of scientists to even greater heights.
In her lectures and award acceptance speeches, she’s quick to acknowledge that her success wouldn't be possible without the graduate students and post-docs who have shared her lab over almost four decades.
“They’re my lifeline and I’m theirs,” she says. “I expect a very high level of commitment from them, but they also get that from me.”
Being her trainee isn’t easy, but is an experience you won’t regret, say past lab members.
“When I first joined the lab we sat down in her office and she said, ‘I know that being demanding, and asking for all you can give me, is what brings results,’” recalls Dobrila Nesic, PhD, who studied in Maquat’s lab in the early ’90s. “She also told me, ‘I’ll put you on the right track and when you leave my lab you will have all the tools you need to succeed.’ And that’s true.”
Although Maquat may be considered a tough mentor, she leads by example and is intimately involved in the day-to-day happenings in the lab. Her office is situated within the lab so trainees can walk in any time to design experiments, discuss data, talk over possible explanations for unexpected results, work on a manuscript for publication, or share anything else on their minds.
“My goal is to never leave a lab member without an answer to a problem for more than a day,” she says. “If it’s outside my expertise, I’ll find the person who would know the answer, so that problems are solved without delay, and work moves forward.”
Though her lab is centered on NMD-related research, she welcomes new areas of investigation as long as ideas are scientifically sound and testing methods are available.
“Lynne is open-minded and lets us pursue projects that we think are interesting, even if she’s not familiar with the area,” says Popp, who is studying how Staufen 1, a protein involved in regulating RNA, influences translation and the innate immune response in macrophages. “With her guidance we’re able to work independently and find our own niche.”
Nesic, a recently appointed lecturer at the Clinic for Dental Medicine at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, aptly describes the sentiment of many former lab members.
“I was lucky and unlucky to have her as my PhD mentor,” she says. “Lucky because that was my most successful scientific period, and unlucky because with time and different experiences I came to realize that she was not the norm, but an amazingly rare exception. It was a privilege to work with her, to experience her way of mentoring, to feel that incredible energy and drive to learn, discover, grow and develop as a scientist and as a person.”
In 2003, Maquat founded the University of Rochester’s Graduate Women in Science program to address the “leaky pipeline” in science: the disappointing fact that fewer women than men who earn PhDs in science actually use the degree in their careers.
Each month, the program hosts high-profile speakers who are using advanced degrees in traditional and non-traditional ways. Twice a year, members can apply for travel awards to attend a conference or seminar that will advance their careers.
In 2013, Maquat received the UR Presidential Diversity Award for her work. In 2014 she also received the Rochester Athena Award, presented annually by the Women’s Council of the Rochester Business Alliance. It recognizes women who excel in their professions, give back to their communities, and inspire other women to lead.
Most of Maquat’s travels involve some form of mentoring, as well. As an example, every two years she attends a conference hosted by the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Trieste, Italy. There, she teaches a course on RNA biology to graduate students from countries lacking strong histories in science, including countries in Africa, South America, and the Middle East. The sessions fill to the brim with students gravitating toward Maquat’s ability to make the content approachable and meaningful.
Since 2015, Maquat is also fast becoming an idol to high school and college students across Canada, where she visits often to inspire them toward science careers. This past October she spoke to about 300 high-schoolers in Saskatchewan, where she opens each talk by telling them how life is very likely not going to happen the way you think it will.
“Did I think when I was a shy girl in high school that one day I’d be talking about scientific research with high schoolers in Saskatchewan?” she says. “Not on your life.”
Going to the Dogs
On her way to and from the Harvey Society Lecture at Rockefeller University, Maquat happily stops to greet every dog crossing her path on the New York City sidewalks—a practice that helps her make four-legged and two-legged friends in whatever city, state or country she’s in that day.
Last year, these places included Singapore, Crete, Prague, Bordeaux, Edinburgh and Oxford. Next up: Belgium, Italy, Germany, and Japan.
“There’s rarely a culture that doesn’t welcome me with open arms when I want to say ‘hi’ to their dogs,” she says.
Back in Rochester, long walks with her black Labrador Lia and trips to the gym and yoga studio are her recipe for good sleep, mental focus, and surviving the long winters.
Not surpringly, when she does take time off, Maquat prefers “adventure” vacations over lounging on a beach. Hiking the Himalayas, exploring ancient ruins, or captaining an 18-foot Hobie Cat are more her cup of tea.
The Joy is in the Challenge
“There is no easy path to most things worthwhile,” Maquat says. “I never mind interesting work, although at times it can be very difficult to figure things out. To me, science is an area where the time and energy that we invest can return in amazing ways provided we are smart about what we do. Science is like putting together a very large puzzle without being able to see all the pieces at once. And, if it’s not challenging, then where’s the innovation?”
To support research in the Maquat Lab, contact Dianne_Moll@rochester.edu or (585) 273-5506.