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Alumni Profile
Dr. Pamela Carroll ('85)

 

 


 

 
 
 

Pamela Carroll, Ph.D., graduated with a biology major from Saint Michael�s College in 1985.  She is currently Head of Research and faculty at the Belfer Institute for Cancer Science at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.

What interested you in your current field and what led you down the path to where you are now? 

My career path has never been preordained; it has been a journey of twists and turns.  I graduated from St. Mike�s knowing little more than I didn�t want to go to medical school (much to the angst of my parents), and spent the summer and fall after graduation waiting tables on Cape Cod (again with the parent�s angst).  Eventually, I joined the National Cancer Institute as a research technician for two years.  I liked the intensity of science and the postdoctoral fellows in the lab encouraged me to go to reach for a doctoral degree.  At St. Michael�s, my favorite science classes were Developmental Biology and Genetics, that led me to apply to schools with strong interest in these fields. I received a Ph.D. from Stony Brook University, and then a post-doc stint at Stanford University.

While at Stanford and Silicon Valley in the late 90�s, there was palatable excitement about the new technologies and application of genomic information.    I became drawn to the emerging �big team science� concept rather than the assistant professor route, and joined the new Department of Applied Genomics at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Princeton, N.J.  I led a group of scientists and several biotechnology alliances across multiple disease areas.  My research focused on applying the data pouring in from the Human Genomic Project, gene expression studies, and proteomics to discover new lynchpins of disease.  I was also Adjunct Professor at Princeton University in the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

In 2002, my Father (James Carroll, SMC �59) and Uncle Mark passed away at too young ages of cancer.  I worked closely with their medical teams to find the most advanced treatments�only to realize the promises we read in popular media and scientific  hype were worthless.  At that moment, my career transitioned from an intellectual and competitive drive, to fully focused on the cancer mission.  Luckily, at both pharmaceutical companies, my managers understood my passion to reinvent cancer drug discovery.  In a few years I became Department Head of Cancer Pathways at Merck leading several project teams in non-traditional cancer targeted areas. 

Still, I believed that the lines of research that needed to be done were too difficult to pursue in traditional pharma, biotech or academic constructs. With a colleague at Merck, and two renown cancer professors at Harvard, we built the Belfer Institute of Applied Cancer Science.  Today, we are professional institute of 60 + scientists that function as a single team to bridge the best of academic and industry research, to �functionalize� the fire hose of data coming from global cancer genomics projects.  Luckily, timing allowed us large grants from the national stimulus of 2009, and generous corporate and philanthropy partners.   We now have a several year runway to integrate multiple technologies and disciplines.  The Belfer Institute has the mission to push the edges of applied cancer research and to bridge the �hole� between industry and academic science.  Stay tuned!

What experiences in the Saint Michael's College biology department prepared you for your career? Are there specific opportunities you think biology majors should pursue before graduation? 

Academically, I was well-prepared for graduate school.  During my SMC years, I was a work- study student with Denise Martin and Dr. De Lorenzo�this helped give me the �hands� for bench work. 

Back in my day, there were limited research opportunities in the Department. Today,  I am so impressed by the commitment at small liberal colleges, in general, to prepare students for careers in research.  I would urge students to take advantage of these opportunities.   I contribute to the Harnett Science Fund to ensure that someday, I can work with wonderful St. Mike�s trained scientists.

Finally, what advice would you give current Saint Michael's College students interested in graduate study and/or specifically interested in your field?

I love being a cancer scientist at a truly transformative time.  The era of personalized cancer medicines is at its infancy.  I have not always enjoyed the journey (ie, painful last year of grad school), nor have I always known what is next.  To become a  top-tier scientist takes a decade of training � but do not fear that- it goes quickly --and grad school and postdoc is government funded.  Bioscience is a global endeavor- move far away at least once.   Take the harder path, and it will reward. 

 

 

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