Professor shares secrets of success as a renowned female cancer researcher

Dr. Olivera J. Finn

Dr. Olivera J. Finn, a prominent University of Pittsburgh tumor immunologist, visited UT Southwestern recently as the 2018 Ida M. Green Distinguished Visiting Professor Honoring Women in Science and Medicine.

Dr. Finn’s lecture was titled “Vaccines for the Prevention of Non-Viral Cancers: The Clear and Present Need.” The speech marked the 25th anniversary of the Women in Science and Medicine Advisory Committee (WISMAC) at UT Southwestern.

“You have done me a great honor, inviting me here during this special year,” said Dr. Finn, referring to the Medical Center’s 75th anniversary. Her speech also touched on the considerable contributions of women in science.

A native of Yugoslavia and a graduate of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Finn earned a doctorate in immunology at Stanford University and completed her postdoctoral work there as well.

WISMAC poster session winners

Following the lecture and as part of its 25th anniversary celebration, WISMAC held a poster session with more than 100 entries and 45 faculty members serving as judges. Winning travel awards went to:

  • Chelsea Stamm, a graduate student in Molecular Microbiology: “Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Mpt64 Is a Secreted Membrane-Binding Virulence Factor.”
  • Dr. Lara Pavageau, a clinical fellow in Pediatrics: “Consensus Guidelines for Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) Management Decreases Need for Treatment: A 15-year Experience.”

WISMAC Co-chairs Dr. Angela Shoup, Professor of Otolaryngology, and Dr. Carole Mendelson, Professor of Biochemistry and Obstetrics and Gynecology, described Dr. Finn as “a pre-eminent scientist and a remarkable person” who has been working to create vaccines to prevent cancer.

“Such vaccines are directed against proteins that are expressed in abnormal forms on cancer cells, which the body recognizes as foreign. She has also been a strong supporter of the advancement of women in science and medicine,” they said in a joint statement.

Over two days, Dr. Finn attended events across the campus and met with groups of graduate students, Medical Scientist Training Program students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty.

Graduate student and WISMAC member Whitney Costello guided Dr. Finn to her scheduled events, an experience that she described as an education in itself. 

“I learned a lot spending time with her,” Ms. Costello said. “I learned that networking and being collegial within and outside of your institution is important for career success. Dr. Finn not only knew the faculty with whom she met during her visit, she also knew the students in their labs. It was inspiring to see her excitement about research.”

Over lunch with about 40 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, Dr. Finn talked about how she balances work in the lab with her home life.

“I’m a mom and a professor,” Dr. Finn said, emphasizing that a personal life and a scientific work life should enhance the success of each.

The Ida M. Green Distinguished Visiting Professorship was established by Southwestern Medical Foundation to honor the wife of Texas Instruments co-founder Cecil H. Green. The Greens are both now deceased, but Mrs. Green was a great supporter of opening career paths for women in science and medicine and provided a major bequest to the Foundation, which is applied to the Professorship.