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Alumni Spotlight on Dr. Fern Murdoch

Opportunities for career or financial success may be limited, but the time you get to¬†practice your "art" is an incredible gift that should be cherished.”

Fern Murdoch, PhD

Fern Murdoch, PhD, was previously the assistant director of CRS under Dr. Kelly Mayo and is a long time member of the Midwestern reproductive science and medicine community. She has recently retired from full time administrative work and and has returned to the lab and is contributing her time as a research scientist at University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

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What is your connection to the CRS community and what is your current position? 

I joined CRS in July 2011 as the assistant director, which is essentially the lead administrator, under faculty directory Kelly Mayo.  I'd been a research scientist at University of Wisconsin-Madison and was doing some undergraduate teaching, but was moving to Chicago.  Neena Schwartz advised me to contact CRS and it was a great fit for me. Currently, I am back at UW-Madison as a research scientist in the lab of Linda Schuler. 

Could you describe your current work? 

The Schuler lab has produced an excellent mouse model for estrogen receptor positive breast cancer that is fully immunocompetent and develops metastatic lesions from the primary mammary tumor.  This allows for the study of the role of estrogen on the tumor microenvironment, particularly immune cells.  I generated a GFP-labeled version of the tumor line to look at metastatic sites in the mouse and effects of estrogens.  My current goals are to obtain quantitative measures of estrogen effects on metastatic burden and to utilize some high-throughput and spatial technologies to evaluate shifts in immune cell profiles around tumor sites as a function of estrogen. 

What aspect(s) of CRS did you find most valuable?  

The people!  It was such a great opportunity to meet scientists at many career levels and learn about their work.  Although most of my day was spent on administrative work, I always felt fully welcomed by the CRS research community and I tremendously enjoyed the weekly research meetings and the annual Mini-symposium.  It was a distinct privilege to work closely with Kelly Mayo and to regularly see Neena Schwartz in the CRS office in Evanston. 

What has been the most valuable aspect to your training as a scientist? 

An ability to approach information - on any topic - with a critical eye.  That doesn't mean I don't have biases and opinions, but I think I am generally willing to consider new or additional information without it becoming personal.  It is a scholarly habit that I think is of great value in all aspects of life.  It makes everything more interesting. 

What would you recommend to junior scientists in order for them succeed in their careers?​  

I am unsure.  My own career didn't go on the mainstream path I wanted, but I have enjoyed many parts of it.  I think it is even more difficult to achieve success now, if your goal is a tenure track position.  Other career paths are available for scientists and may be a better fit for some.  The thing that I always loved most was formulating a question and working at the bench to try to answer it.  Sometimes I think of that as being almost the same as an artist.  Opportunities for career or financial success may be limited, but the time you get to practice your "art" is an incredible gift that should be cherished.  I feel so lucky to have the chance to return to the lab at this point in my own career.    

What do you think will be the next big contribution in your field?  

My field, going back to my post-doctoral training, is the mechanism of steroid (specifically estrogen) hormone action.  During my career this field has exploded in terms of understanding how steroid hormones work as well as development of pharmaceutical agents that target steroid/nuclear hormone receptors.  These days, I think about the long-term effects of environmental agents- both natural and from human-made waste discharged to the environment - and how their ability to interact with steroid/nuclear receptors may affect animal phenotypes by epigenetic alterations that may be heritable.  I don't know if it will the next big contribution, but it is an important topic. 

Do you have any notable stories from your time in CRS? 

With help from Ingrid Cox Miller, I wrote a set of reproductive science trivia questions that were used at the annual winter party for several years.  The year after I left CRS, I still came to the party and Kelly Mayo recruited me to his team for the game.  Since I wasn't the administrator anymore, I could now be a player - right?  You'd think this would be an advantage for our team, but I adamantly talked Kelly and the others out of several right answers and we lost!  I'd spent so much time devising the wrong answers in the first place that they sounded really good to me!