Pathologist, Huntington Memorial Hospital (Ret.)
By David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project
August 24, 2022
DAVID ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It's Wednesday, August 24th, 2022. I'm delighted to be here with Dr. Susan Murakami. Susan, it's so nice to be with you. Thank you for joining me today.
SUSAN MURAKAMI: It's my pleasure.
ZIERLER: Susan, to start, would you please tell me your title and institutional affiliation?
MURAKAMI: At the moment, I'm retired, so I don't have an institutional affiliation. But it is Dr. Susan Murakami. I have an MD. I was at Huntington Hospital for over 30 years, and retired a couple of years ago.
ZIERLER: What keeps you busy during retirement? What are the kinds of things you're involved in?
MURAKAMI: Actually, they are mostly Caltech-based. I'm on several Boards of Directors. But I also help out a good deal with Tom Mannion's cooking class and all of the other extracurricular activities he provided for the students. Other than that, I am relatively domestic, so I cook and bake and do needlework projects.
ZIERLER: Susan, how did you get involved with Tom? Tell me about the cooking class; how that got started.
MURAKAMI: That's because, essentially, everybody on campus knows who Tom Mannion is once he started working here. I wish he'd been there when I was a student. But when my son was a student, he told us, "You should really meet Tom." To be honest, my husband, Lee, was the first one to go see what his cooking class was all about. Then he told me, "You should go see what he's doing," so I went. I am constitutionally unable to sit there if I see that something [laugh] needs to be done.
MURAKAMI: I ended up pitching in, and pitching in every week, and then I ended up pitching in every time he had an event. But even before that, we were already involved in the Alumni Association and the Y and other campus organizations, so it wasn't a huge step to be involved in something else.
ZIERLER: Tell me about your work with the Alumni Association.
MURAKAMI: That's been a while ago. I was on the board probably in the late '80s, and then again in the 2000s, maybe. I don't remember exactly. Then Lee was on the board after that, and he was president for a year . We haven't been associated with the CAA for a while, since probably about 2017–18. I think it was starting to take a direction that we weren't happy with, so we backed away a little bit. That's the Alumni Association, but I've been involved in other ways. We were asked to become Associates when we were in our late 30's, and weren't very active except that we donated money every year. But then 2007—it's been a while—they asked me to be on the board. I've been on [laugh] the board on and off for a while.
ZIERLER: Now, was it unique in your 20s to be asked to be a member of Caltech Associates? Were you rather young for that?
MURAKAMI: [laugh] At the time, they had what was called the Junior Associates, which the name has changed but they've re-instituted. For a while there, if you were younger than something, if you were giving $2,000 a year, you could become an Associate. Lee was working for I'm not quite sure which company anymore, but they would match our contribution. Since we were giving $1,000, and whoever it was would match that 1,000, it was 2,000, so we said sure. It didn't benefit us particularly. It didn't offer us that much more in the way of perks. But it was nice to support the institute that way, With the $2,000, it really wasn't that hard. There are, I think, a lot of younger people now that actually can contribute the full 4,000 or more. It was probably not that unusual.
ZIERLER: Now, of all of your connections, you mentioned that, currently, Caltech takes up a lot of your time externally. What are your connections to Caltech now? What are the kinds of things you're doing with Caltech?
MURAKAMI: I still work with Tom Mannion. And also the Associates board, and then the Caltech Y board, SURF and their board—I'm off this year—and the Gnomes. I don't know if you've run across them.
ZIERLER: That's a new one for me. What is Gnomes?
MURAKAMI: The Gnomes are a much smaller group. They started out as one of the off-campus houses to live in in the late 1890s. It's actually older than Caltech, per se. It dates from before Throop became Caltech. It was a house. It was disbanded when they built the four south houses. But then a few years later, I think Dr. DuBridge realized that he sort of missed the kind of fraternities that—he's from the East Coast, so those schools all had fraternities. He partly missed that, partly, it was because some of the remaining Gnomes (Kappa Gamma; the name came from—one of the first founders is John Grinnell, who founded Grinnell College). But I think he discovered an owl, the gnome owl. Anyway, that's where the name came from, but why we pronounce it gnome, I don't know.) felt they had something to contribute to the school
MURAKAMI: But that's what it is. That's where the name came from. Anyway, they approached Dr. DuBridge. He said, "Yes, you may continue your club if you only induct graduating seniors." It's no longer a fraternity, and there's no rushing, and there's no blackballing or anything to get into it. What we do though, basically, is choose graduating seniors who have demonstrated during their time at Caltech some leadership qualities or other social qualities, athletic qualities. It's not a scholar's award, so they may not be the top in their class, but they've demonstrated a willingness to support the institute while they're undergraduates. The assumption is that they will continue to do so when they leave. That's not a bad assumption. If you look at the rolls of the Y and the Alumni Association [laugh], most of the leaders have been Gnomes.
MURAKAMI: They keep track of it, the Alumni Association. They keep track of which house, which year; they do keep track of which Alumni are Gnomes.
ZIERLER: Susan, what's been some of the rewarding aspects of being involved with the SURF program, and encouraging undergraduate research?
MURAKAMI: I thought doing undergraduate research was one of the perks of being an undergraduate at Caltech because it wasn't like "play" research. It was actually true research, that they needed a problem looked at, and they actually gave it to an undergraduate to help solve. When I was a student, SURF didn't exist. . What you ended up doing is wandering around the halls, asking professors if they had enough funds to hire you for a certain period of time, which was great. I got to work on projects that they were working on with their postdocs or PhDs; use the best equipment in the world. There was no limitation [laugh] on the equipment I could use. I had fun doing exciting research.…I knew what my career path was going to be, and I didn't plan on doing research in the future, so this was my chance to do a little bit of it. If you're undecided, it's a great way to figure out if this is what you want to do. The SURF program has done a really good job of helping you look at not only just the research but coming up with a theory and hypothesis, and figuring out how to do it within the confines of a professor's laboratory; how to put it together. One of the important things is how to communicate it, not only with your laboratory peers but also with your mother and father and Uncle Joe, who want to know what you did this summer, and have no background in it. The students learn it's one of the skills that they ask you to try, and it's learned unequally, and some do it better than others. But you have the opportunity to do all that. I think it's an important aspect of their science education, to be honest, so I highly support that.
ZIERLER: Susan, tell me a little bit about your medical career, the kinds of things you worked on?
MURAKAMI: I'm a pathologist, and never did research after my residency and fellowship. I wasn't interested even in doing clinical research. I just wanted to be as good a community pathologist as I could. I think I was a decent community pathologist. I was lucky in that my first and only job was at Huntington. That was serendipity. I'd sent my CV to the whole West coast, and that's where I ended up. It was just lucky that I ended up in Caltech's backyard. Huntington was a very interesting institution in that, yes, it's a community hospital for most of Pasadena, so it gets primary care patients. But it's big enough and it has HMRI (a research institute) associated with it, the Medical Research Institute, so they always have clinicians and other scientists that are doing some research. As a result, and because it's close, because of geography, we're close enough to City of Hope, UCLA, USC, that it was associated with clinical trials that were going on at all three places. It's a small enough hospital that I could do both clinical and anatomical pathology. In other words, I could help in the laboratory, and I could do also the surgical pathology, which is looking at biopsies, autopsies, whatnot, and doing that, which is what I wanted to do, and large enough that we had a laboratory where I could—I was hired basically to put in some new technologies that were coming in at the time I was a resident, and certainly needed to be put in place by the time I was done training.
ZIERLER: Susan, what aspects do you think of your Caltech education were really useful in approaching the science of pathology?
MURAKAMI: Basically, after my four years of residency, I did a fellowship in what was called immunopathology. It took the basic biology that I had at Caltech, which was not, at the time, biology and microbiology. It was biology and it was molecular biology [laugh], for all intents and purposes. Lee Hood was here, so he did a lot of immunobiology at the time. There were other people that were doing that. I understood a lot of the basic science behind that, and it was fairly easy for me to do that. It's an interest of mine, so to be able to apply a lot of what I'd learned to what I was doing every day was very useful. It made it also very easy for me to understand why we're doing x,y,z; where it was going. It was helpful that way. Otherwise, if nothing else, you learned to think carefully about a lot of this information, which is what most physicians end up doing when they're making up their differential diagnosis when considering??] a patient.
ZIERLER: Susan, let's establish now some context before Caltech. Where did you grow up? Where were you at high school?
MURAKAMI: [laugh] In an inner-city Los Angeles high school, so I grew up in Los Angeles.
ZIERLER: Were you made aware of the decision by Caltech that it would be available to women when you were applying?
MURAKAMI: My physics teacher in high school was a very gung-ho Caltech supporter. He was from the Philippines, but he was a very strong Caltech supporter. He had another student—her name's Betty Kwan—in 1970, who he told "You should really apply." That's the first year that they opened up applications, and he asked her to apply. She got in, and did very well her first year. In my year, he encouraged a couple of us to apply and, actually, we both got in, so we both went.
ZIERLER: This was '71, the second year, women were admitted to Caltech.
MURAKAMI: Correct, right.
ZIERLER: Susan, growing up, were you always more on the math and science side?
MURAKAMI: Yes. I think more on the math and science side, although I was fine in English. In certainly elementary school and junior high school, if you do well, you just do across the board—for the most part, I will grant you, some of the guys I have run into don't do so well in English. [laugh] But most women who do well in math and science are also pretty good at the English at that level; maybe not so good once you get to college, but we're certainly fine through high school. But my mother was what'snow called a clinical laboratory scientist. She worked with pathologists, and so I knew pathologists most of my life, all my life, essentially. I decided I wanted to be a pathologist when I was 12.
ZIERLER: Oh, wow. [laugh]
MURAKAMI: I didn't decide I wanted to be a doctor, and then decide; it was I wanted to be a pathologist.
ZIERLER: Oh, wow.
ZIERLER: Now, were you in contact with any of those first year, the 1970 women class? Did you have a sense of their experience, what it was like in that environment?
MURAKAMI: To a degree. I knew Betty, although she was in a different house, and she's a different major. She's a physicist. But in the first year, the women were in Dabney, Ricketts, and Blacker. They opened up to all the seven houses the second year, and two of the 1970 admits moved from I think Dabney into Fleming. They had wanted to move to Fleming, so I knew them reasonably well. They're busy, and they had their other interests, but it helped to have the two more experienced women there.
ZIERLER: When you got to campus, did it already feel like it had been broken in? In other words, 1970, that first class of women, it was really brand new. Were things sort of smoothed over, do you think? Did Caltech feel ready to accept its second class of women?
MURAKAMI: To a degree, and I'm not sure that it was a change in opinion of the people that had been there so much as that there were now two classes of men who entered with women instead of that very first one because, to be honest, I don't think the two senior classes—the seniors and the juniors—were as welcoming or OK with it as the two classes of men who entered with women. It wasn't that they changed it but they graduated out. Of the professors, probably some finally changed their minds. Some probably didn't. I was lucky in that I was in biology, and most of the faculty support came from chemistry and biology.
ZIERLER: Yeah, I've heard that before. Any insight or guesses as to why that would be?
MURAKAMI: No, I don't know. I have to admit that prior to that, I had no contact with that many men who had said, "Women can't do this." There was a whole bunch of them in math and physics and engineering, probably, that just said, "Women can't do this. They don't belong here." I also know that, because Caltech is pretty small, there were some faculty that said, "If you admit a woman, you're taking a place away from a qualified man, and the women are just going to get married, and they'll never use it(their degree)," which, to be honest, in 1970, bothered me a lot because women were entering the workforce at that time. It wasn't 1940 or even 1950 where you really were unusual if you went into the workforce. 1970, that wasn't so odd anymore, but that was still a prevailing attitude, I think, that the women there were only going to find somebody, get married, and never use what they learned, which was a little weird. To be honest, I had a very good experience because the professors I interacted with were very supportive. If you talk to, like, Betty and Peggy—I think you've emailed Peggy—and a few others who were not in chemistry and biology, their experience was significantly different because they got very little faculty support.
ZIERLER: Susan, what was the intelligence among the women undergraduate in terms of professors who were allies, or really good classes to take? Did that shape at all the curriculum that you set up for yourself?
MURAKAMI: No, no. I'm not a mathematician. I'm not a physicist. My mind isn't wired that way, and I knew. [laugh] I knew that, going in, and I knew I wanted to go to medical school, so it was going to be biology and chemistry. I essentially took all the biology and chemistry that I could cram into my schedule. No, it didn't matter that much to me who the professors were.
ZIERLER: Susan, what about the things like bathrooms and dorms, and all the other ways that Caltech very quickly had to accommodate its new class of women? Did that feel, by year 2, more or less settled, or were things still in motion?
MURAKAMI: No, things were still in motion. That's the kind of thing you probably have to ask, like, Debbie what things were like that first year. Fleming had no idea what to do with us. They had not had women in their house before. They essentially set aside one alley or one hallway for the women, so all six of us were in this one hallway, and we had one set of bathrooms. Then the next year, we were mixed in all over the place. It was a very inefficient use of bathrooms because what happened was if there was somebody in the bathroom, using the shower or the toilet, nobody else went in there. They didn't put a sign or anything on it to say male, female, or anything. It's just if you knew somebody was in there, you didn't go in there. Only one person at a time used the two-person facility. I have no idea what they do now [laugh]—
MURAKAMI: —but it was like that while I was there. [laugh] That was true even when it was only the women on that floor. I think we just didn't. It was one person at a time.
ZIERLER: Now, I think in that first class, the number I heard was in the low 30s, something like 31 or 32 women. Had that number increased in year 2?
MURAKAMI: No, there were 28 of us (as far as I know).
ZIERLER: Even less? Interesting.
MURAKAMI: Yeah, and then it got even less. The numbers didn't climb as quickly as they had hoped because it was fewer for quite a few years, I would say, a good five to eight years where it was less.
ZIERLER: Any insight as to why that would be the case, especially if that wasn't the goal? They wanted the numbers to go up.
MURAKAMI: Right. They did it. It's possibly for the same reason that they have trouble attracting minorities, well-qualified minorities, is just if there are so few of you on campus, it's not as attractive, except as a challenge. [laugh] It was very interesting to me that a lot of the women I ran into at Caltech said, "Oh, finally, there's at least one or two other females." There's actually quite a few more females that are interested in this. They came from high schools where it had been only one of them in their classes, and so that was attractive. Then that kind of died off, and there weren't so many that it was an attractive thing. In other words, there were far more women at Stanford, Princeton, and MIT, so if you wanted to fit like that, that's where you went. For a lot of that first couple classes, it was like, "Look at that. They're actually starting to admit women." This was a challenge. "We should really go and see what it's like." I think that challenge kind of died off. OK, they're accepting women, fine, I would guess. I don't really know why it died off so much. But it's hard. If you don't have a significant number, it's hard to get more to come. I think we've hit that at this point.
ZIERLER: Tell me about some of your favorite classes as an undergraduate.
MURAKAMI: One of them was, I think, it was called Bio 2. The numbers all changed. It was essentially a seminar course with Ray Owen, and we read papers and discussed them, and then had to write a couple papers. But he had it in his home, which is on Rose Villa. That was the other thing. A lot of the professors had homes right around Caltech, so if they had a small class, they had it at their house, and we could walk there. That was really nice. It made that contact with the professor much easier; much friendlier. You got to know their wives. You didn't always get to know the rest of their family, but you certainly saw their wives. It was much friendlier. I've been to his house. I've been to Max Delbrück's house. I've been to Kent Clark's house. That was fun. His classes were amazing. I actually enjoyed physical chemistry with Sunney Chan, even though p. chem is not one of the tops of my favorites. Harry Gray's class was always phenomenal for freshmen. The thing that they let you do at the time, which they don't let you do now, and it's probably a good thing, but you had to have humanities, but they didn't care which humanities it was. I had four years of literature—
ZIERLER: Oh, wow.
MURAKAMI: —which is not particularly useful, but it was fun. I read a ton of books [laugh] in four years. [laugh]
ZIERLER: Susan, among all of those great professors, who stands out in your memory as really being supportive of women at that early juncture at Caltech's history?
MURAKAMI: Ray Owen and Harry Gray.
ZIERLER: In what ways? How did they express that support?
MURAKAMI: They were around. If somebody needed to talk about their classes, about the atmosphere, about the problems, they were around and they were available. It was actually easier to get to see them. They weren't so bogged down in a lot of other stuff. A lot of professors seem not to be so easily available today. But it was very easy to find the professors then. You could just go wander around near their office, and they'd be there, and you could talk to them. It was very helpful. I talked to Lee Hood but not quite as much, but he was the only one there at the time that had an MD. I talked to him periodically.
ZIERLER: What were some of the formative laboratory work you did as an undergraduate?
MURAKAMI: To be honest, the most stuff that I found useful [laugh] was I worked for Dr. Giuseppe Attardi for about six months. I worked for Lee Hood once. I worked for Jean-Paul Revel. Jean-Paul was scanning electron microscopy. Giuseppe Attardi was working on mitochondrial DNA, and I did a fair amount of work, helping him to sequence some mitochondrial DNA. The methodology preceded PCR,
ZIERLER: If you can explain technically, how is it a precursor to PCR?
MURAKAMI: It was sequencing DNA. We had to harvest the DNA, separate it out. PCR just has speeded up the process, but the theory behind it is the same. It just has speeded up the process a lot.
ZIERLER: Susan, the interesting point you made before about what's so special about the SURF program—that it's not play research; it's actual research—was that true for you even before SURF was formalized as a program?
MURAKAMI: Yes, correct. If a professor was going to hire you to work in his laboratory, it was because he needed hands on something. The difference between that and SURF is I never had to write up anything such as a proposal or summary of the research performed. He (the professor) hired me to do laboratory work, so I had to know what he was working on. I had to understand the science. I got to work on it. I didn't actually have to formalize anything. For the SURF students, they actually have to write this down. I did have to learn to tell my mother what I was doing, sort of. But she's worked in a clinical laboratory in a hospital, so it wasn't that hard. But I never had to give a talk, write anything down, so I think that part of SURF is very valuable.
ZIERLER: Now, during the summers, did you stay on campus? Did you work in the labs?
MURAKAMI: Yes, that's when I did it. I didn't have the bandwidth to do it while I was taking classes, so it was during the summers.
ZIERLER: This amazing idea that you knew you wanted to be a pathologist since the age of 12, did you maintain that laser focus through undergrad? Did you think about pursuing basic science academically?
MURAKAMI: No. In my opinion, I don't think I'm—let's put it this way—I'm not creative enough. I certainly could have gotten a PhD. I'm not creative enough to have made an impact in the sense I wouldn't have come up with a hypothesis or something that I wanted to work on that would lead to something really revolutionary. I'm not that creative a person—and I know it. To be honest, you don't have to be, but, in my mind, that's what you needed to be a really good professor, and that's not me.
ZIERLER: Perhaps being at Caltech, that just creates that level of standard.
MURAKAMI: To a degree. To be honest, it may not have been true had I gone to someplace else. Getting a PhD may have not seemed so weird, or to go into academia. But if you assume that that's what your standard is, I'm never going to get there.
ZIERLER: Where I was coming from with that question is it seems like, oftentimes, the culture at Caltech is to encourage the students to go into at least graduate school. Were any of your professors encouraging in that regard, trying to convince you otherwise?
MURAKAMI: No. I got lucky that way. Really, in my opinion, the professors in [laugh] biology and chemistry were very broad-minded, I guess, and they're willing to encourage you to do whatever it was you wanted to do. I don't think I ever went to the career development center or whatever they had at the time. I don't even know what they had at the time. I didn't even go there to figure out how to apply to medical school. I went and asked Lee Hood. [laugh]
ZIERLER: Susan, in class, did you ever feel pressure not to make a mistake because you'd be second-guessed as a woman? Did you ever feel any of those external self-conscious kinds of things?
ZIERLER: How much does that say about who you are yourself, and how much about the environment you were learning in?
MURAKAMI: I don't really know. I will say one thing, which you haven't hit on is, essentially, all of the students that are at Caltech have been at the top of their class for their entire lives. Then they hit Caltech, and you're not—no way; no how; no matter. Even if you graduate at the top of your class, there is somebody smarter than you somewhere along the line in something. That's just the way it is. My mother did not want me to go to Caltech because she was pretty sure I wasn't smart enough, and she hadn't figured out why I got in. That was OK because I didn't think I was smart enough either. I was really surprised I got in. But it was such an honor to get accepted, I decided I'm going to go. I'm probably going to flunk out the first year, and that's OK. I will go someplace else after that. That's not the attitude of most people [laugh] going to Caltech. I wasn't surprised, I wasn't floored, I wasn't anything to find that most of the people that I was with are what I would say far smarter than me, and it didn't bother me. I have a feeling that's not the case for a lot of other students, and that probably does impact something of what they do in most cases. It didn't affect me.
ZIERLER: Did you graduate at the top of your class or did you ace the SATs or the kinds of things—?
MURAKAMI: I graduated at the top of my high school class, certainly, but I still didn't consider myself Caltech caliber. I applied because my physics teacher was really pushy. [laugh]
ZIERLER: Why do you think it worked out? How come you didn't flunk out that first year? Maybe you were actually that smart, is just the answer? [laugh]
MURAKAMI: [laugh] I'm barely smart enough (I guess), and I have learned how to study. I did actually know how to study. To be honest, I wouldn't recommend my course, necessarily, because I studied almost to the exclusion of everything else. I don't think that's a really good way to be, necessarily. It worked for me, and I was OK with it, but I did nothing else hardly. I will grant you, I had a boyfriend almost the whole time [laugh] I was there. But, other than that, I studied. Even though I strongly support the Y, and I'm really glad there's a good theater, arts, music program at Caltech, and there are so many phenomenal musicians among the students—I think that's really good—but I didn't make use of any of that, to be honest.
ZIERLER: You think you were unique in that regard because, of course, Caltech undergrads are known to be nonstop studiers?
MURAKAMI: Not probably totally unique. I was lucky in that, even though I was concentrated that way—and this would've been true, I think, probably no matter which house I had been in—but there was always some stuff going on at Fleming that you were encouraged to participate in. There were house things that I participated in also. I was gently forced to socialize more. I grew up a lot. I probably was far more comfortable making friends with men than I would've been if I'd gone to another school where I wouldn't have been forced to make friends with men. In the early years of Avery house, when Avery went from being you could only go after your freshman year, and only for a year because it was a house where, in theory, you interacted with graduate students and faculty, when they started to be a real house, they never had dinners together. You went down there whenever you wanted to and ate. They didn't have that much in the way of social, because it's a brand-new house. There were some students that I talked to periodically, and realized they really were just going to sit in their rooms and study, and that wasn't good for them. But that wasn't necessarily my problem as an alumna to get them out of there. I think it's different now. As Avery has matured as a house, it's probably not that bad. I'm afraid it might be true at Bechtel. The thing was with the houses, you weren't forced to do anything. But you're encouraged to participate, and there were always people, and things going on in the alleys, so that helped a lot. Even though I studied a lot, I did do things with the house and, because of the male/female ratio, I almost always had a boyfriend, and so I wasn't [laugh] by myself. But I didn't participate in other extracurricular activities that Caltech offered[
ZIERLER: Susan, when did you start focusing specifically on medical school, next steps after Caltech?
MURAKAMI: Well, I was always focused on it. In other words, I focused on it, and I knew I had to keep a decent GPA. That was the other reason why I kept my head in a book. I needed to keep a minimum of 3.6 if not better GPA. Otherwise, I didn't work on it so much. I knew when the deadlines were for the MCATs and for the applications, and those weren't as difficult as they are now. [laugh] A pre-application is due this, and then there's this due, and then that due. I Applying to university wasn't that hard either. To be honest, at that time, I applied to four colleges, and that was all you had to do. Some people only applied to one. Now, you have to apply to this multitude of institutions. The number of medical schools you have to apply to is just phenomenal. . It wasn't that hard. It's not like it is now where you've got to keep track of all these dates, and they're all different, and you're applying to 30 schools. [laugh] No, it's wasn't that hard.
ZIERLER: Susan, in medical school, how well prepared did you feel coming with a Caltech education relative to some of your classmates?
MURAKAMI: I was pretty highly prepared for the basic science stuff. I placed out of biochemistry. I did do some clinical research for somebody for the first year I was there because I had the time. It wasn't that difficult. Everything like histology and anatomy and physiology are all new to all of us, and there were a lot of smart people. It was a little different in that Michigan did, by that time, have a good 30% women, if not more. It wasn't 50%, but it was far more women than [laugh] I was used to seeing.
ZIERLER: All through grad school, you maintained, I assume, the focus on pathology?
MURAKAMI: Yeah. There were some other, like, surgery that were interesting. It was fun for a lot of people because you'd get to do procedures. But any other specialty had to show to me that not only was it more interesting, but the lifestyle was worth it. The surgical lifestyle, certainly during your residency, is not. At that time, there were very few women in surgery, and they made it hell. Actually, there's a couple books out by some prominent surgeons of that era about how bad it was.
ZIERLER: You mean specifically because they were women, or women had to balance family obligations in ways—?
ZIERLER: Oh, I see.
MURAKAMI: —because they were a woman, because the men just made it worse on purpose for the women.
ZIERLER: In pathology, that wasn't as big an issue?
MURAKAMI: It's not as big an issue. There were not as many women; there were some, so it wasn't that I was the only one. To be honest, the lifestyle of a pathologist is much better than a surgeon—it was; it is.
ZIERLER: Because it's not nearly as time-sensitive?
ZIERLER: That's basically the issue.
MURAKAMI: Right. You can schedule your time. You have to be there on call, but you know when it is. It's not like I don't know that I'm going to have to go in. I know when I'm scheduled, I know when I'm going to be on call. Then the other days are pretty much 7:30am to 5 or 6 pm roughly speaking, and you go home. It's not like, well, I might be here from 6:30 am to 8:00pm. I might be here from 5:00 am to 12 midnight. It's just far easier—not just for women but for everyone. [laugh]
ZIERLER: [laugh] Right. It's a gender-neutral comment. [laugh]
MURAKAMI: Right, yeah.
ZIERLER: Susan, tell me about the residency options you were considering.
MURAKAMI: By the time I was there, you didn't have to do a rotating year first. You could go into pathology right from medical school, so that's why I applied to pathology residencies. I had had enough of Michigan, so I applied to only a California school, California programs, I believe.
ZIERLER: Which ones? Where did you end up for your residency?
MURAKAMI: I ended up at Cedars-Sinai, and I can't remember all the others. I obviously applied to USC and didn't like it. I think I didn't apply at UCLA. Probably San Francisco, Stanford, but really I'm not 100% remembering where I applied anyway. There is a match program where each applicant is matched to one program.,—
ZIERLER: Susan, I'm just looking at the timing. When you were a resident at Cedars-Sinai, was the AIDS crisis sort of front and center? Was that something you had to deal with at all?
MURAKAMI: It just started. I was there at the same time as David Ho.
ZIERLER: I was wondering about that.
MURAKAMI: But he was in medicine and infectious disease. He's a year or two older than I am. We did cross paths at Caltech, and we crossed paths at Cedars-Sinai periodically, and it was just starting. I think that's where his interested germinated probably I think he was still a fellow, a resident, maybe. We did see quite a few cases.
ZIERLER: Did you have interface at all with AIDS patients? Was there a pathological perspective on that?
MURAKAMI: Only from the standpoint of it's another one of those things that we kept in mind.. You're always careful in pathology anyway because you handle organs that haven't been sterilized, number one, and you're wandering around with scalpels and needles and whatnot, so you're aware. But that wasn't in any sense any different than hepatitis. It got to be, but you were just a little bit more careful. It obviously impacted our differential diagnoses when evaluating patients, but I was doing mostly the clinical pathology portion of my residence when it started to really ramp up, and so it would've been mostly in hematology and in blood banking where I ran into that. I don't remember. It should've impacted microbiology too, but I don't remember that so much, actually.
ZIERLER: What are your recollections in those early years of the detective work about what exactly this illness was?
MURAKAMI: I hate to say this, but I really don't remember. I was certainly aware of it. I read, because of my continuing education, and part of that, because it did impact the practice, read about it a lot. But I don't know that I concentrated on that so much, really, as something that I was really, really interested in and aware of necessarily, except to the fact that they started to figure out fairly soon that that had to do with T cells, and problems thereof. But I really don't remember exactly.
ZIERLER: Then from Cedars-Sinai, that's when you went to the Huntington, or was there a job in between?
MURAKAMI: No, I went to Memorial Sloan Kettering to do an immunopathology fellowship for two years.
ZIERLER: Did that have a cancer-specific focus?
MURAKAMI: Yeah. It was more or less but they were one of the few that actually offered an immunopathology fellowship when they first opened. They had immunopathology fellowships and boards for a few years, and then it's now since gone away, and they've incorporated most of that into your general pathology residency. But, at the time, it was different because they were first coming out with some immunohistochemistry techniques, flow cytometry techniques. Those were all brand new, so I did those, and then I also worked on some kidney biopsies, which involved—and always have, even since when I was a resident before—involved a lot of immunohistochemistry. Then for a little while, I rounded with an immunologist in a clinic at Sloan Kettering, and those patients were not cancer patients. They were patients that had autoimmune diseases or severe immunodeficiencies that were inherited. It was an odd sort of fellowship, and they don't do it anymore. The AIDS thing, by that time, was a totally different thing. If you were going to concentrate on AIDS, you did it separately, so I had nothing to do with AIDS at that time.
ZIERLER: Then it was the Huntington?
MURAKAMI: Then [laugh]—and this is neither here nor there—I got pregnant on purpose. It was kind of like if I'm going to get pregnant, I'll do it now. My first baby was timed. It was like if I'm going to have a baby, he needs to be born right at the end of my fellowship.
MURAKAMI: Unfortunately, that also meant that I was interviewing for a job when I was pregnant, and I didn't get a job.
ZIERLER: You obviously connect that to your pregnant status?
MURAKAMI: I do. I assumed Most people looked at it, and said, "She's going to have a baby, and want time off, and blah, blah, blah." Nobody said that; nobody had to. I was pretty sure. Anyway, it worked out. At the time that I was doing this, I was interviewing on the East Coast because my husband had decided he wanted to stay where he was. Then within about six months, he decided, no, he didn't want to stay there. Then we sort of looked at where we wanted to live, and decided West Coast. I sent my CV up and down the West Coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. That's when I got the job at Huntington. I ended up having a year off, basically. During that year, we lived in Connecticut, so it was within driving distance of Yale. Once a week, I drove to Yale, had somebody watch the baby, drove to Yale, and just looked at slides for that year, just to keep my hand in.
ZIERLER: At the Huntington, was that when you started to get involved with Caltech again?
MURAKAMI: Yeah. We really didn't do much when we were on the East Coast. To be honest, I didn't do that much during the four years of my residency, other than donate some money here and there when we could. Residents don't make that much money, so it was mostly my husband's salary. Caltech is lucky or we are lucky in that we are both alumni at the same place, so it wasn't like we were trying to give money to two different schools [laugh] but to one place. Then for the couple years that I was in New York, and the year after that—we were gone for three years—we really didn't do much, except donate a little bit of money here and there. Then when we got back, we started participating in the Gnome events.
ZIERLER: Susan, of all the things that you've contributed at Caltech, what's most meaningful to you? What are you most proud of?
MURAKAMI: I think that's hard to say. I don't know that I'm proud of it. I really enjoy interacting with the students when I'm working with Tom on his programs. I just find the students really phenomenal. I enjoy talking to them, seeing what they're up to, and what they're doing. Other than that, I will say that because I'm on the board of the Associates and the board of the Y, and I feel comfortable with the programs and what they're doing, I have brought in some non-Caltech people to join the Friends of the Y, or to join the Associates, which has been nice, because I do think Caltech as an institution is worth supporting. It's hard for me to ask alumni to give more than they're already giving because they do or don't based on their own experiences. But if I can get somebody who's not necessarily associated with it to see why it's worth supporting, that's useful.
ZIERLER: Susan, nowadays, of course, the ratio is much closer to fifty-fifty. Do you have insight, or do you think that your efforts have contributed at all to those trends?
MURAKAMI: No. [laugh] I don't think so. I think some of the undergraduates enjoy talking to the older alum just because we can show them, yeah, you can have a career. We're pretty normal. We're not as weird as we all seemed to be when we were on campus. We have normal lives. We have careers that we enjoy. We have children, and there's quite a few of us. You can balance it, somewhat. I will say I am also pretty honest about telling them some things I've given up. I told this to some technicians that I worked with at Huntington too when they complained about not getting a project. I was never going to be the head of the department. I was never going to be head honcho at the hospital because I won't go to their executive retreat. There are things I wasn't going to do because I chose to have a family. You actually can't do everything. You can't tell them, "I'm going to be the head of this, and I will be available 24/7," unless you've got somebody else that's going to take care of the family 24/7, either a nanny, husband etc—but then that means you've limited your time—you're willing to limit your time with your children. Either have your nanny do it, or your husband do it, or somebody that's not you. It depends on what you're willing to give up. If you're willing to give up the family for your job, fine, as long as they're happy with it, or you give up some of your job for the family, and you balance it, but it's a choice. Then you should be aware that you're going to have to make some choices. Whether you consciously do it or not, you will be making some choices.
ZIERLER: Susan, have you ever had opportunity to interact with female undergraduates more recently, and compare their experiences with yours?
MURAKAMI: Not more recently but maybe a few years ago. Well, I've been helping Tom, and been around long enough that I was around when it went to—when I came back, it was maybe 30% women, and it felt better than it did when I was an undergraduate. But it wasn't normal, but I couldn't tell you the why. When it hit like 42%, it felt much more normal, and it stayed that way. But I can't tell you why it feels more normal; it just does. It's not so much the ratio that I notice, the difference between their experience and my experience, or what they complain of versus what I complained of. But Title IX didn't exist when I was an undergraduate, but I never felt personally that I was under siege or that I was attacked, or that I was afraid for myself. That may not be true for everybody. There may have been some women that felt personally in danger. I never did. The men were sometimes kind of heavy-handed, but they weren't going to hurt me. We put up with a lot of stuff. We put up with a lot of jokes, a lot of comments, a lot of stuff.
ZIERLER: Things that would not be tolerated today?
MURAKAMI: [laugh] Right. It was like to hell with it. They don't mean anything by it. Just let it go. I find it very interesting to listen to the women. They're not usually talking to me. They're just talking to each other, and they're just saying, "Why should we—?" You're right. They shouldn't have to put up with that, but it isn't, in my opinion, worth a big to-do. [laugh] It's like you just let it go. Some things are worth fighting about. That's not worth fighting about. But that will be different based on your own life experiences, and how personally in danger you feel, I guess. I'm not an engineer. I have a feeling the women—if you, talk to Peggy and the women who have worked in those more male predominant fields have probably felt that kind of thing more, even as they worked, than I ever did. I almost always had my own office, so I didn't [laugh] have to work with a bunch of males who had pin-ups on their walls.
MURAKAMI: [laugh] They did, and it makes a difference, But I haven't specifically talked to current undergraduates about the difference in their experience. A lot of it, when I talk to some of the girls who graduated maybe five years ago, it was more a difference in what they expect the boys—and what they get. In other words, I didn't expect [laugh]—if you expect them to be nasty and oblivious, it's fine. You just let it go. If you expect them to be perfect gentlemen, and always—then it ain't going to happen. [laugh] It's just not. They're teenagers. [laugh] I'm sorry. It's very interesting. What I think is very interesting to me, and one of the girls did point it out this past year, since we nominate those students that have been in leadership positions to join the Gnomes, this year, it was roughly 60% women. We only nominate 25 a year, roughly speaking. But this year, 60% of them were women.
MURAKAMI: One of the girls said, "Is it always that way?" I went, "No." But I'm not surprised because within the last five years, like the ASCIT president, the house presidents, the IHC, those have often women,. If I think about it, I'm not that surprised because at that age—so 18 to 22—women are generally more mature, and they are more able. If they are comfortable being where they are, they're going to take those leadership positions.
MURAKAMI: I think to a degree—I hope to a big degree—Caltech is still a meritocracy, so the cream's going rise
ZIERLER: Susan, if I can ask one last question, I think, to sort of summarize it all up because you have such a unique perspective. Given all of the ways that you've remained connected, and have committed service to Caltech, after your undergraduate education, and looking back from your perspective from that second class, how has Caltech's both initial decision to admit women, and to the numbers that we see today, how had that improved Caltech institutionally?
MURAKAMI: I think it has essentially partly normalized, hopefully, what even the public feels about hard science. In other words, both men and women are equally good at this basic science stuff. It's not so weird that only this little congregate of men who put themselves up there are the only ones that can do that. It's men and women can do this. Yes, they're very bright, and they're very strange sometimes. But it's sort of a more normal population. I think that's a very good thing for the institute and the public to realize. I think, in a lot of ways, general speaking, men and women think differently. The way they approach problems that Caltech approaches is different, and I think that's a good thing.
ZIERLER: Yeah. Susan, it's been a great conversation. I'm so glad we were able to do this. Thank you so much.