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John Harvard's Journal

Erin O'Shea

January-February 2007

“I have a personality that’s like, if I’m going to do something, it’s going to be done well, period,” says Erin O’Shea. (That’s why she gave up full-throttle golf. “I found it frustrating, hitting that little white ball around.” Instead, she runs. She wakeboards. She and her husband, Douglas Jeffery, play a lot of bridge, as partners, with only a little bickering.) O’Shea has done much well. The professor of molecular and cellular biology, director of the FAS Center for Systems Biology, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator studies how cells monitor the environment and respond to it, and attempts to decipher the logic of cell signaling and the regulation of gene expression, the processes that go awry in diseases such as cancer. In 2004, at 38, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, a rare honor for one so young. In 2005, Harvard lured O’Shea from the University of California, San Francisco, a medical school, partly because she wanted to teach undergraduates. “I realized that a large part of the success I have enjoyed is because of people who helped me when I was that age. My teaching and advising [she is coauthor of a new concentration, in chemical and physical biology] and having undergraduates in my lab [along with 16 graduate students and postdocs] have been the most rewarding aspect of being here. Hands down. I just finished a series of lectures in Life Sciences 1a with 630 students in the audience in Sanders Theatre, and it is a total thrill to stand up there in front of them and see them get so excited about science. I can’t imagine a better thing to be doing. I’m actually shocked most people at Harvard don’t realize this.”

Erin O'Shea
Photograph by Stu Rosner