Virginia Zakian

Molecular Biology

Virginia Zakian’s work, the study of the parts of chromosomes that may play a role in the prevention of cancer, might lead you to imagine a lone scientist locked away in a lab. According to Zakian, professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, nothing could be further from the truth.

“The view of a scientist that the world has out there is really warped,” she says. “They think of us as technocrats, people without a sense of humor who work a million hours a day and don’t interact with people.” In fact, Zakian’s efforts are an example of the interactivity of the scientist’s life.

It starts in Zakian’s lab. There, she directs a team of more than 20 researchers, undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Their shared goal is to learn more about how telomeres, the physical endpoints of chromosomes, contribute to chromosome stability. Through these efforts, Zakian and her team illustrate one of the most fundamental tenets of science: Every scientist works in a larger community, building on the achievements of the past and sharing knowledge to discover new breakthroughs.

Zakian is committed to sharing her love of science with her students in the classroom. Just as she shares knowledge and insight with her lab researchers, she sees the relationship with students as one of mentorship. In fact, she points out, as a faculty member of Princeton’s molecular biology department, she serves as a mentor to undergraduates, something she loves doing.

Zakian’s efforts to advance science also go beyond the lab and the classroom. As chair of Princeton’s Task Force on the Status of Women Faculty in the Natural Sciences and Engineering at Princeton, she has helped spearhead the University’s efforts to attract and retain women scholars in these fields. It’s an effort that is close to her heart, as women have played such a dominant role in her field because strong mentors worked with up-and-coming women scientists.

As a result, she’s proud to contribute to Princeton’s efforts to support women’s continued success in science. “Princeton is in an excellent position to effect change in the representation of women in areas like the sciences where they’ve traditionally been underrepresented,” she says.

Zakian has also participated in University and national programs to increase diversity in the life sciences. For example, she co-chaired a committee at the National Institutes of Health to evaluate and extend their programs for minority scientists.