Recorded: 17 Jan 2003
I think I’ve been a scientist through quite an interesting period. When I started out, I was—I actually did my Ph.D. a little bit after my first degree so as I said, I think I turned 30 just about the time I left Cold Spring Harbor so that period between when I’d done my first degree and when I did my postdoc was actually the real focus of women’s liberation activity and I’d certainly myself been quite involved in Australia in some of the political groups that had been involved in women’s liberation. So probably the position that I started out in when I was a new science graduate was a different position from where I ended up in by the time I was a postdoc.
I came from a family who had in a sense a split personality. They always said because I was obviously bright, yes you can go do anything. You know you can really succeed. And they always encouraged education and achievement. But on the other hand there was a lot of pressure on me to do pharmacy because it was such a good job for a woman. You know, you could do it part time after you were married and that sort of thing. So fortunately I resisted this pressure and went into science and then into research and did a Ph.D. and so on. So I must say that doing the Ph.D. was definitely a result of the women’s liberation experience that initially having a good basic degree seemed to be enough but clearly I could do more and as I came to realize where my attitudes to things I became much more motivated to go through to that next stage.
Merilyn Sleigh is a pharmacologist, molecular biologist and dean in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of New South Wales. After completing her Ph.D. at the University of Sydney in pharmacology and another PhD in molecular biology at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), she came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to work under Joe Sambrook as a postdoctoral fellow researching the protein production of SV40. She returned to CSIRO, establishing one of the first laboratories in Australia using genetic engineering approaches to study influenza virus structure, evolution and gene regulation. She has become involved in developing the biotechnological industry in Australia. Sleigh is founding director of the Australian Biotechnology Association and is currently Chief Executive of EvoGenix, a start-up biotechnology company located in Australia.