Hobbs feted with a celebration of women
By Cathy Frisinger
On Nov. 8, 2015, UT Southwestern Medical Center geneticist Dr. Helen Hobbs was honored on national television as a recipient of one of the Breakthrough Prizes, an international award that included $3 million presented for groundbreaking discoveries in Life Sciences, Mathematics, or Physics.
The Breakthrough Prize was presented to Dr. Hobbs, Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular Genetics and in the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, in recognition of transformative genetics research techniques she developed and used to identify key genes involved in lipid metabolism. As the 12 winners (and one junior winner) stood on stage, it was clear to all that Dr. Hobbs was the lone female so honored.
A January celebration that focused on Dr. Hobbs’ achievements and the achievements of other women at UT Southwestern and also served as a mentoring experience was organized by Dr. Helen Yin, Associate Dean in the Office of Women’s Careers/Faculty Diversity and Development, and Professor of Physiology. About 50 female faculty members gathered in the A.W. Harris Faculty-Alumni Center, where a slide show displayed photos of the women who serve as leaders at UT Southwestern, including female Chairs and Center Directors.
Dr. Hobbs gave a lighthearted talk about her Breakthrough Prize experience that extended from her hearing that she’d been selected for the prize while sitting in the parking lot of a Dunkin Donuts in the remote reaches of Maine to receiving the award from Mark Zuckerberg and Hillary Swank at a black-tie ceremony. Following the presentation, Dr. Hobbs sat for a “fireside chat,” answering questions about her journey. Among the highlights:
How did your family life influence your success?
My childhood prepared me very well for my life. I have three very competitive, aggressive brothers and I had to hold my own. I remember going to my mother once and saying, “Billy hit me,” or something like that, and she said, “You have to fight your own battles.” We had a great relationship, but my mother did not pamper me. My parents provided a very supportive home base, but I was expected to find my own way. I had very few rules.
Was there any time in your life when you thought, “I can’t do this”?
Any time? All the time. My career didn’t take off like a rocket, but there was a steady upward incline. But inside it didn’t feel like that – it felt like hills and valleys. You have to keep going, you have to stay in the game during the tough times. I still have times when I question myself, but I have learned to use the energy that comes from my anxiety to push myself forward and think more deeply about my next experiments.
You have two sons. How did you cope with parenthood and a career?
I had wonderful child care, the same woman for 21 years. I could leave in the morning, comfortably knowing they were well taken care of. The worry was getting home in time. The medical students used to call me “Manic Mom” because I would race to my car to get home in time for her to get to the bus.
One thing that I think women don’t realize is that the most stressful time, when you are starting your laboratory and have a young family, will end. You have to stay in the game during this period. When my kids grew up, I had more time to give to my career, and could take more risks. You cannot get distracted by the peers whose careers progress at a faster pace. There is plenty of time for you to do the experiments you want. I did my most important scientific work in my late 40s and 50s.
Dr. Hobbs holds the 1995 Dallas Heart Ball Chair in Cardiology Research, the Eugene McDermott Distinguished Chair for the Study of Human Growth and Development, and the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Chair in Developmental Biology.
Dr. Yin holds the Margaret Yin Chair for the Advancement of Women Faculty and the Peter and Jean D. Dehlinger Professorship in Biomedical Sciences.