Women's History Month Stories

Susan Kaech, PhD

CRI Scientific Advisory Council Member
Professor and Director, NOMIS Center for Immunology & Microbial Pathogenesis
Salk Institute for Biological Studies

What factors influenced your decision to pursue a career in science, and how did you first become interested in this field?

I always liked the science courses in school and learning about the world around me, outdoors and on the waters of the Puget sound, but it was my first lab job at the Fred Hutch Cancer Center during my freshman year in college that really turned me on to science. I was actually doing RNAi (before we ever called it that) to try and block virus replication. It was really cool.

Looking back at your journey, what’s a standout achievement that you’re really proud of in your scientific career?

As I near the 20th anniversary of my Lab, I think it’s fair to say that the biggest standout achievement has been that I actually still have a lab!! But seriously, my biggest achievement has been helping my trainees pursue their own scientific dreams and discoveries. Paying it forward is a value that guides me.

We’d love to know about a fantastic female mentor you’ve had – someone who’s been a guiding light in your scientific pursuits. Who comes to mind?

I receive mentoring from a lot of wonderful women and men, and firmly believe you  need many mentors to hear different perspectives (which is why we need more diversity in science). I have never had just a single main mentor. Of the female role models that I admire tremendously and haven given me support and advice at different stages in my career include Drs. Pippa Marrack, Laurie Glimcher, Kim Bottomly, Paula Kavathas, Carla Rothlin, Akiko Iwasaki, Ananda Goldrath, Marion Pepper, Amy Weinmann, Lydia Lynch and Yasmine Belkaid. I don’t necessarily consider mentors to be someone older than you…just someone who’s smarter and wiser!!

As a trailblazer, what advice would you offer to aspiring women entering the field, considering your own experiences and success?

Science is incredibly fun and rewarding. While research and running a lab is a demanding career, it gives you a lot of personal freedoms—to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, how to do it, and who you want to do it with. That helps you create your own happiness. Also, don’t be afraid to take risks…there is no better feeling than to be a part of a new discovery you hadn’t foreseen.

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