Lab romance

Red Heart
Credit: G. Grullón

Alice and her friends answer questions that you don’t want to ask your preceptor, peer, or colleagues regarding your career in science.

Dear Alice,

Q: I am a graduate student at a prestigious university, working in a great lab headed by a really cute assistant professor who is unmarried as far as I know. I think I am falling hard for this person, because all I can think of is getting this person alone and declaring how I feel. I know that fraternizing at the work place is frowned upon, but I am having a hard time putting an end to this situation because I really don’t want to. Can this jeopardize my career?

- In Love, Raleigh

Dear In Love,

A: Yes, this can jeopardize your career, so you must proceed with the utmost caution. First, explore your institution’s rules on fraternization; some are quite explicit and forbid it between professors and students, even between consenting adults. At some institutions, it is illegal for senior members to fraternize with anyone under their supervision. Also, if your feelings are not reciprocated, your advances could be interpreted as harassment. 

Workplace relationships are always risky, especially when they involve such differences in status and power. Should they go sour, even more problems could ensue. Yet, Cupid does strike at some inopportune times, and there are many examples of successful laboratory romances.

Whether or not you end up pursuing this relationship, it may be a good idea to change labs—or, even better, institutions. If you choose to proceed, proceed with care. 

- Alice

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Alice Huang

Dr. Huang is one of the pioneering researchers in molecular animal virology. She trained at Wellesley College and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She has worked at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Medical School, New York University (NYU), and California Institute of Technology. She has served on the boards of the University of Massachusetts, Johns Hopkins University, and the Keck Graduate Institute at the Claremont Colleges, in addition to many other nonprofit organizations. She introduced vesicular stomatitis virus as an experimental model in virology. She carried out many of the initial investigations on the molecular biology of virion structure, replication, macromolecular synthesis, viral spread, and virulence. Her work on the virion-associated RNA-dependent RNA polymerase led to the grouping of many viruses as negative-strand viruses. Her studies on pseudotypes, especially between RNA and DNA viruses, demonstrate the spread of viruses to new host cells and provide important tools for genetic engineering.

As a teacher, Dr. Huang has taught and mentored undergraduates, graduate students, medical students, postdoctoral research fellows, and clinical fellows. She has guided junior faculty members and department chairs. As an administrator, Dr. Huang provided the vision and obtained support for beginning what is now known as “Silicon Alley” around the NYU neighborhood. She is a past president of both the American Society for Microbiology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the publisher of Science Careers), two of the largest scientific societies in the world. She also dedicated 18 years to shepherding the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, together with Sydney Brenner and Chris Tan, into a successful center of research in what is now known as the Biopolis in Singapore. She continues to consult with research institutions and governments, sharing her expertise and practicing science diplomacy and policy.

Throughout her career, Dr. Huang has advocated for women in science. She encourages thoughtful approaches to reforms in teaching, to attract students with diverse backgrounds and interests to become interested in and committed to careers in science. She has been honored for her advocacy as well for her research accomplishments. Her wealth of experience as a leader and team player in research, administration, and advocacy prepares her well to provide advice to those pursuing careers in science.

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