Submitted: 30 April 2012
Two interview sessions: March 28 and 29, 2012
Total approximate duration: three hours and thirty-six minutes
Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.
For supplementary materials:
Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:
Javier Garza, MSIS, firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Interview Subject:
Dr. Margaret L. Kripke (b. July 1943, Concord, California) was recruited to MD Anderson in 1983 to found and head the Department of Immunology. Her research career began with the discovery of the link between ultraviolet light and skin cancer. She served as Executive VP for Research and Academic Affairs, the position held when she retired in 2007. She was instrumental in creating the Women Faculty Organization. Dr. Kripke a Professor of Immunology and Vivian L. Smith Chair Emerita. She is currently Chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Health and Environment for the city of Houston.
Major Topics Covered:
Personal and educational background
Research: photo-immunology and skin cancer; creating a new field of study; establishing new laboratory at MD Anderson
Physician-scientists at MD Anderson
Career shift into administration; leadership
Building research at MD Anderson; supporting faculty
Women faculty; Women Faculty Organization; Women Faculty Programs; women and leadership
The President’s Cancer Panel
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Regarding the Transcript and Audio Files
In accordance with oral history best practices, this transcript was intentionally created to preserve the conversational language of the interview sessions. (Language has not been edited to conform to written prose).
The interview subject was given the opportunity to review the transcript. Any requested editorial changes are indicated in brackets [ ], and the audio file has not correspondingly altered.
Redactions to the transcript and audio files may have been made in response to the interview subject’s request or to eliminate personal health information in compliance with HIPAA.
Interview Session One: 28 March 2012
Photo-Immunology: Creating a New Field out of an Observation
Chapter 01 / The Researcher
Administrative and Leadership Experience
Chapter 02 / Professional Path
Coming to MD Anderson: First Woman Chair; Setting Up a Laboratory, Leading a Department; Clinical Applications of Research
Chapter 03 / View on Career and Accomplishments
Research Advances and the Excitement of Scientific Discovery
Chapter 04 / The Researcher
Moving into Administration: a Path from Department Chair to Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Chapter 05 / The Administrator
Interview Session Two: 29 March 2012
Roles in Building Research and Advocating for Faculty
Chapter 06 / Building the Institution
MD Anderson Presidents
Chapter 07 / Key MD Anderson Figures
Evaluating the Status of Women and Creating Programs for Women Faculty
Chapter 08 / Diversity Issues
The President’s Cancer Panel and Post Retirement Activities
Chapter 09 / Professional Service beyond MD Anderson
MD Anderson Growth; Key Awards; Views on Women in the Workplace; A Life in Magnolia, Texas
Chapter 10 / View on Career and Accomplishments
Interview Session One: 28 March 2012 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (read/listen)
Chapter 01 (The Researcher)
Photo-Immunology: Creating a New Field out of an Observation (listen/read)
Dr. Kripke begins this Chapter with some comments about joining MD Anderson in 1983, noting differences between the hospital environment and the research contexts she was accustomed to. She notes that professionals came to MD Anderson for many reasons, but stay because of the mission to cure cancer, a mission that “permeates the activities of the institution.” She then traces how her own research on photoimmunology evolved, beginning with an observation she made in her dissertation (on immune surveillance) that “it would important to investigate the immunology of animals exposed to ultraviolet light.” She had the opportunity for exactly this study from 1972 – 1975, when she went to the Department of Pathology at the University of Utah’s College of Medicine in Salt Lake City to look at the role of immuno-suppressive drugs in animals, including those exposed to UV light. It was “tailor-made for her interests and background.” She describes the effects of UV light on the skin and the cancers induced, noting that no one else was doing similar work at the time and that her findings went against common assumptions about the progress of cancer. She presented her results at the Society for Photobiology, and “the results were so black and white, it was hard to argue with them,” and other scientists were very interested. She describes the early days of understanding that the skin is an “immunological organ.”
Chapter 02 (Professional Path)
Administrative and Leadership Experience (listen/read)
In this segment, Dr. Kripke descirbes her work at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland (1975 –1983), including her administrative experience. She set up a laboratory from scratch and eventually became head of the Immunobiology Physical and Chemical Carcinogenesis Section in the Cancer Biology Program at the NCI-Frederick Cancer Research Facility. To streamline the discussion about the development of her research path during this time, Dr. Kripke provides the manuscript of a lecture she gave on the progress of her research. She notes that the period at the NCI broadened her outlook on biology, as it was devoted exclusively to doing science and exposed her to scientists from diverse fields. She also speaks about the administrative skills she acquired (how to manage people; how to run a scientific meeting), in addition to raising her own professional profile in the field. This period, she notes, stimulated her interest in the issues of leadership –this would continue with her increasingly significant administrative roles at MD Anderson.
Chapter 03 (View on Career and Accomplishments)
Coming to MD Anderson: First Woman Chair; Setting Up a Laboratory, Leading a Department; Clinical Applications of Research (listen/read)
In this segment, Dr. Kripke covers her arrival at MD Anderson (Hospital and Tumor Institute) in 1983 to establish a new Department of Immunology. She addresses gender issues very forthrightly: she is very proud of the fact that she was 39 when she came to MD Anderson as a department chair; the first woman chair of a department and the first women who was a tenured full professor in a research department. She recalls speaking with Dr. Charles LeMaistre about her two concerns: being a Ph.D. in a clinical, medical environment and being a woman in an environment that was much more male-oriented than NCI-Frederick. She tells anecdotes to flesh out the latter view. She offers examples of the practical challenges she faced while setting up a scientific research laboratory in an environment that is designed for clinical activity (noting that “starting a laboratory is like starting a small business”). She makes additional comments on the persistence of challenges to women, though she notes that the Vice President of Research, Frederick Becker, was a “true champion of women in the institution,” who made sure she had opportunities to progress. (She notes that new basic science departments were being created in the 80s, and in fact the Department of Immunology was “a little late in coming” to MD Anderson.) She talks about being pleasantly surprised that she enjoyed teaching and then outlines the goals she had as Chair of the Department. (She also talks about building a program that would integrate immunology into other cancer approaches housed in Research Building 1 on the South Campus.)
Chapter 04 (The Researcher)
Research Advances and the Excitement of Scientific Discovery (listen/read)
In this segment, Dr. Kripke expands on her research career. She talks about her collaborations with doctors who translated her research into clinical applications. She gives an example of research with liposomes (“fat capsules”) to deliver an enzyme to repair DNA damage caused by ultraviolet light: these liposomes worked and also prevented further damage (though have not been translated into therapy for humans). She emphasizes that photoimmunology continues to tease apart the mechanisms that connect UV light to skin cancers. In response to a question about the mental dimensions of the research process, Dr. Kripke explains that interpreting data is like solving a crossword puzzle, but the “exciting part is designing the right experiment,” and “the feeling that you know something or know how to do something that no one else knows. The rest is just doing the work.” She describes some of these moments she has experienced in her research career. She acknowledges her many collaborations with her husband, Dr. Isaiah Joshua Fidler (“all of our papers together were the result of an argument”) and characterizes the role he has had on her career as an advisor about the processes and politics of science. She says that her daughter (Katherine Kripke) “grew up speaking metastasis and immunology.” She also notes that she read Dr. Fidler’s papers, that they improved each other’s scientific output. (She notes that her own administrative roles have created awkward situations for both of them.)
Chapter 05 (The Administrator)
Moving into Administration: a Path from Department Chair to Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs (listen/read)
In this segment, Dr. Kripke talks about her shift from research to administration and her “learning curve” as she grappled with leadership. She talks about her (exclusively) mentors in leadership and also her participation in a program for women in academic medicine, ELAM, the Executive Leadership in Medicine Program in 1996-1997. (She was the only appointee from Texas that year.) She describes being interested in “the science of administration.” She details the lessons she learned during this “phenomenally exciting time” that allowed her to reflect on where she wanted to go with her career. She explains her decision to leave her research career, resulting in her 1998 appointment as Vice President for Academic Programs (promoted to Senior Vice President in 1999 and to Executive Vice President in 2001). She outlines the principles on which she bases leadership and discusses institutional and cultural changes that evolved after 1996, when Dr. Mendelsohn became president, including a new openness compared to the secrecy of previous administrations. She describes how she tried to implement one of her goals as VP for Academic Programs --to “level the playing field” for researchers. She talks about her working relationship with Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, whom Dr. Mendelsohn appointed to Senior VP of Academic Programs. She describes the scope of her role as Executive Vice President, emphasizing that she had to become familiar with the clinical side of research, “a completely different culture.”
Interview Session Two: 29 March 2012 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 06 (Building the Institution)
Roles in Building Research and Advocating for Faculty (listen/read)
Dr. Kripke begins this Chapter by further detailing her role as Vice President and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs. She notes that when Dr. Mendelsohn took over as the institution’s president, he combated the “spirit of retrenchment” at MD Anderson, creating an unexpected period of “explosive growth.” She then underscores that the limiting factor for research at the institution is “facilities, even more than money” and describes how she worked with Dr. Mendelsohn to further specific research areas: immunology, genetics, and other programs. As part of this discussion, she talks about ongoing challenge of refining how researchers’ careers are organized and managed within the institution, noting in particular the challenges associated with career paths for physician-scientists. Reflecting on her own achievements in the VP role, she notes particular pride in “leveling the playing field” for researchers, the assignment of space and resources to researchers based on merit, and the complete rewriting of the grievance policy for faculty.
Chapter 07 (Key MD Anderson Figures)
MD Anderson Presidents (listen/read)
In this segment, Dr. Kripke talks about Dr. Charles LeMaistre and Dr. John Mendelsohn. She notes that Dr. LeMaistre’s greatest contribution may be the creation of the Department of Cancer Prevention, then goes on to discuss the leadership style of Dr. Mendelsohn, with whom she worked closely. She describes him as a consensus builder, and notes his success in fostering translational research at MD Anderson, to the degree that there are more physician-scientists who want to come to the institution than they can afford to hire. She then speaks about her optimism that Dr. Ronald DePinho will be able to guide MD Anderson through another “quantum leap.” She credits the Board of Regents for selecting the presidents that MD Anderson needs as a particular moment, even if the choice at first seem surprising.
Chapter 08 (Diversity Issues)
Evaluating the Status of Women and Creating Programs for Women Faculty (listen/read)
In this Segment, Dr. Kripke narrates her role in advancing the status of women at the institution, beginning with her role in writing a report on the status of women and minorities. (She credits the administration with allowing the committee full access to all records to prepare this report.) She details the gender inequities at MD Anderson and lists the other women with whom she partnered to help start, first, the Organization for Women (1989) that included faculty and administrative staff, and then the Women Faculty Organization (1990) to address issues unique to women faculty. She also tells a significant anecdote about how she realized that she herself had the institutional power to do something about gender inequity. She notes that it is important for high-ranking women to advocate for gender equity in order for the initiatives to have credibility (rather than seeming self-serving). She talks about the process of assessing what women faculty needed and lists the changes they were able to effect (parental leave time, annual salary reviews, etc.). She explains that prior to her retirement she created the position of Associate Vice President for Women Faculty (leading to the creation of the Office of Women Faculty Programs) to insure that there would be a high-ranking individual to highlight women’s issues at the institution. She underscores that even when there are more women being hired, it’s necessary to aggressively address gender inequities in order for women to be given equal chances for career advancement, for their achievements to be recognized as equal to men’s, etc. She then reflects on how her work as an activist for women influenced her own leadership and offers thoughts on her own leadership style: a consensus builder with a sense of how to pick the right battles. Dr. Kripke explains that she gave up traveling so she could achieve the same kind of excellence in her administrative work as she had in her research. She notes her open-door policy and believes that faculty appreciated her accessibility.
Chapter 09 (Professional Service beyond MD Anderson)
The President’s Cancer Panel and Post Retirement Activities (listen/read)
In this segment, Dr. Kripke discusses the “great and unexpected honor” of serving for two terms on the President’s Cancer Panel (2003 and 2006, appointed by George Bush). This experience, she says, taught her that cancer research does not necessarily serve patients, a discovery (after a career in research labs) that turned her into an advocate for changing the balance of how research is funded. She believes that the Panel’s report on cancer survivorship (’03 term) helped to bring attention to the need for follow up plans when patients leave the hospital, as well as the necessity of providing them with complete medical records. She would like to see the Panel address issues of cancer prevention, noting that the most important report she contributed to was on the effects of the environment on cancer (’06 term) and how little we know about the cancer causing properties of agents in our food and environment and how agents banned in other countries are still in use in the U.S. She notes that “the government doesn’t want to deal with it” and this kind of study has lagged behind everything else. The Panel took a lot of criticism for its “strongly worded report” (including from the American Cancer Society). She explains why the Cancer Panel elected to focus on environmental factors, given that only 6% of cancers are attributable to the environment.
Dr. Kripke then turns to her post-retirement activities. She first talks about serving as Special Assistant to Provost Dr. Raymond DuBois to ease him into the culture and institution. She also served as ad interim department chair at the Smithville remote facility when the head stepped down. She also explains how she came to serve on the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Health and Environment for the city of Houston (one project on the CEO Roundtable; one developing a resolution on obesity).
Chapter 10 (View on Career and Accomplishments)
MD Anderson Growth; Key Awards; Views on Women in the Workplace; A Life in Magnolia, Texas (listen/read)
In this final Chapter of her interview, Dr. Kripke comments on the growth of MD Anderson and on her own career and life after retirement. She begins by noting that many people think that the institution has already become too big. She talks about the loss of personal relationships, but that the mission remains strong. She notes that there were concerns at the executive level about “how big is big enough,” but that the demand for services will increase as the population ages. She explains why satellite operations offer a good solution.
Dr. Kripke reflects on what has given her most satisfaction in her career. Scientifically, she says she was pleased to move forward the Montreal Protocol, which got rid of chlorofluorocarbons (noting with pride that Al Gore mentioned her in his book, An Inconvenient Truth). Administratively, she was proud to bring a sense of fairness, transparency, and a change of leadership style to the role of Vice President of Academic Programs. She also feels she made significant contributions to women in the institution. She hopes that the Office of Women Faculty Programs will continue. Dr. Kripke then speaks about her most meaningful awards, singling out her 1984 receipt of the Lila Gruber Award for Cancer Research from the American Academy of Dermatology, since it is more meaningful to be recognized by those outside one’s field than by colleagues.
In the last minutes of the interview, Dr. Kripke speaks about the person behind the research and administrative personas. Her “great escape place” is in Magnolia, Texas, where she and Dr. Fidler own property. She built a pool and a greenhouse so she could raise orchids and likes country life, being a “biologist at heart.” Reflecting on career expectations of her daughter and stepdaughter, she notes differences between the experiences of career women today and when she was going through her career, acknowledging that things have changed.
 To provide additional information about her field, Dr. Kripke has provided the text of her lecture, “Reflections on the Field of Photoimmunology.” Contact the archives for information.
In a two-session interview of three hours and thirty-six minutes, photoimmunologist Dr. Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D. (b. July 1943, Concord, California) is interviewed as a follow up to sessions conducted in 2007 (interviewer, Lesley Brunet). The sessions take place on March 28 - 29 2012 in a conference room in the residential tower where Dr. Kripke lives in Houston, Texas. Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. is the interviewer.
Dr. Kripke received her Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1970. (Her M.A. and A. B. in Bacteriology were awarded at the same institution in 1965 and 1967, respectively.) She went on to a postdoctoral fellowship at State University, Columbus, Dr. John Wallace, 1970-1972 and then to a position of Assistant Professor, University of Utah, Department of Pathology, College of Medicine, Salt Lake City, UT (1972 – 1975). She then moved to the National Cancer Institute at Frederick, Maryland, where she became director of Cancer Biology Program (1975-1983). Dr. Kripke joined MD Anderson in 1983 to found and head the Department of Immunology. In addition to a research career that began with the discovery of the link between ultraviolet light and skin cancer, she had many important administrative roles, including that of Executive VP for Research and Academic Affairs, the position held when she retired in 2007. She was also instrumental in creating the Women Faculty Organization to strengthen support for women’s careers at MD Anderson. Dr. Kripke is currently Professor of Immunology and Vivian L. Smith Chair Emerita at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She is currently Chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Health and Environment for the city of Houston.
In these sessions Dr. Kripke sketches the development of her dual career in research and administration and discusses her work to address persistent challenges to women in the sciences.