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Environmental Factor, April 2012

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Adelman balances science and parenthood for NIH tenure

By Ian Thomas

Karen Adelman, Ph.D.

In her spare time, Adelman is an avid hiker and amateur photographer. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS lead researcher Karen Adelman, Ph.D., was awarded the prestigious honor of tenure by the NIH Central Tenure Committee, for her exemplary work with the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Adelman was one of eight recently tenured NIH scientists to be recognized in the March-April 2012 issue of the NIH Catalyst.

“I can’t say enough wonderful things about my lab members and the people at NIEHS,” said Adelman. “From the moment I arrived here, everyone, from the Director on down, has shown tremendous support for my work and the ideas I was passionate about.”

The NIH tenure track process involves the rigorous evaluation of an intramural scientist and their work, in order to determine their overall worthiness of the long-term salary, personnel, and resource commitment that accompanies the tenure appointment.

A well-traveled career

Having earned her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular genetics from the Universite de Paris VI, Adelman spent 5 years as a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University, before arriving at NIEHS in 2005. As head of the NIEHS Transcriptional Responses to the Environment Group, she and her team study the environment’s impact on gene expression in Drosophila, or fruit flies, and mice. 

“We’ve learned a lot about the various mechanisms of development and immune response by studying these areas in the fly system,” explained Adelman. “Now the challenge comes in shifting those experiments toward the mammalian model and, therefore, that much closer to human application.”  

Throughout her career, Adelman has been recognized with a number of awards, including the 2006 Rising Star Early Career Award and a 2010 NIH Director’s Award.

A focus on family

In addition to her duties as a full-time scientist, Adelman has also managed to balance the responsibilities of a home life. As the mother of two young children, she notes that effective time management skills have been crucial to her success with both roles.

“Bedtime is a wonderful thing,” Adelman joked. “Another nice thing about working here at the Institute is that they’re pretty flexible with my time and, as a mom, you can get a lot of work done between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and midnight.”

Still, Adelman is quick to point out that none of it would be possible without help on the homefront. 

“My husband is a phenomenal partner,” she added. “We do everything as a team and that’s been a huge supporter in allowing me to pursue my career. There’s no way I could pull any of this off without him.” 

Balancing the future

With the tenure-track behind her, Adelman is excited for the challenges that lay ahead, as well as the research benefits and freedoms that come with tenure. However, proud as she may be of her career, Adelman freely admits that, for her, true happiness comes from not only success on the bench, but also at home. 

“I’m so incredibly thankful to have had the kind of career in science that I’ve enjoyed, but still have such a wonderful family to come home to,” said Adelman. “It’s been an incredible challenge to balance those two aspects of my life but, difficult as that is at times, it’s all doable if you’re committed to making it work.”

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

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