Dr. Ka Yee C. Lee

    May, 2004:

    Dr. Ka Yee C. LeeDr. Ka Yee Lee of the University of Chicago was interviewed by Margaret Stowell Levenberg including questions suggested by Dr. Connie Jeffery of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Lee was born in Hong Kong, graduated from Brown University in 1986, and earned a Ph.D. in applied physics in 1992 from Harvard University. Dr. Lee joined the faculty at University of Chicago in 1998, and has been an Associate Professor since 2002. Dr. Lee’s research group carries out fundamental studies on the interactions between lipids and proteins to gain insights into the biophysical aspects of diseases, including Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) and Alzheimer's Disease, by studying lung surfactant peptide SP-B and Amyloid-Beta Peptides, respectively.

    Dr. Lee knew early on that both teaching and research would be important in her career. She was excited by several mentors, among them an undergraduate professor, who showed her the joy of discovery through research. Although her current research interests have diverged from those of her undergraduate advisor, they are still in regular contact, and she greatly values his input in her growth as a scientist. Since her undergraduate research experience has played a crucial role in her decision to pursue a career in science, Ka Yee makes a conscious effort to include undergraduates in her research group. It is her belief that experiencing the excitement of scientific discovery first-hand may help inspire students to pursue a scientific career.

    In both grant writing and job applications, Ka Yee emphasizes the need to be clear in articulating what you want to do and achieve. She is careful to let the evaluators know why the problem she chooses to tackle is important, and how her background and experience could help her to accomplish the goal set for the project. When Ka Yee wrote grant applications for her research in beta amyloid peptides, she had no prior experience in the field. However, by showing that her expertise in her lung surfactant work could be applied to this area of research, she was able to attract funding for this study.

    As to how undergraduate and graduate students should choose a lab for research, Ka Yee thinks that the students should talk to the students in the lab as well as the potential advisor. Not only is it important to find out about the scientific interests of the lab, it is also important to understand how the lab functions and to determine whether the lab would work for the student. Ka Yee emphasizes that one needs to recognize an environment that can bring out one’s best, with projects that the student finds exciting.

    While Ka Yee has not found being a woman to be a barrier in her career moves, she has found that the demand on her time for various committees and mentoring relationships is high, since there are not as many women available. While these are highly worthwhile services, she cautions one not to overcommit and emphasizes the importance of striking a balance to ensure that you will be able to do well in what you want to do.

    I would like to thank Dr. Lee for her time and her focus on ways to help women in science advance their careers.