Career Conversations: Q&A with Structural Biologist Lauren Parker Jackson

Lab topper

By Abbey Bigler

Lauren Parker Jackson (Vanderbilt University)

“A confusing experimental result almost always means you’ve stumbled upon something interesting and maybe even exciting. I think that’s what makes science fun,” says Lauren Parker Jackson, associate professor of biological sciences

Q: What sparked your interest in science?

A: I credit my high school chemistry, physics, and biology teachers with getting me interested in science. They were quirky, they were talented, they were energetic, and they weren’t afraid to push us. As a teenager, I did a lot of science fairs and quiz bowls, where two teams compete to answer academic questions. As a high school junior, I took part in the Governor’s School for the Sciences and Engineering, where I spent a month at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, studying chemistry in a lab. That exposed me to research for the first time.

Q: What was your path to a research career?

A: I started at Vanderbilt as an undergrad in chemistry. In my first year, I went to my professors and asked, “Are there research opportunities?” A lot of professors said, “No, not for freshmen,” but one, Dr. Gerald Stubbs, said yes. I joined his lab the summer after my first year at Vanderbilt, and I never left. I originally thought I was going to attend medical school, but doing research in his lab changed my trajectory.

I went on to earn my Ph.D. in England at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Trinity College, which are both part of the University of Cambridge. After my Ph.D., I went into management consulting for a couple of years in London, but unfortunately, that was 2008—during the financial crash. It was a very weird time to be in consulting, and I didn’t like it at all. I ended up going back to do postdoc studies for four and a half years at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research. Then I returned to Vanderbilt as faculty in 2014.

Read the full interview with Dr. Jackson to learn how she became a biologist and what she studies in her lab on the National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ Biomedical Beat blog here.