Rose Ann Cattolico

Photo: Rose Ann Cattolico
College of Arts & Sciences

Dr. Rose Ann Cattolico is a Professor of Biology. She received her PhD from the State University of New York, Stony Brook, in 1973 and served as a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University until 1975. She has been a faculty member at the University of Washington since finishing her postdoc. Her primary interests lie in the area of chloroplast genome architecture and gene function in non-chlorophyll b containing algae, as well as functional genentic diversity within stramenopile populations.

How did Dr. Cattolico become interested in algae? “I took a master’s degree studying pollen in terrestrial plants and I developed a horrible allergy to the pollen. So when I was looking to do a PhD, I wanted to choose a system where I wasn’t going to develop an allergy. A friend of mine was working with algae and I was introduced to his advisor. The project seemed very interesting to me so that was the first time I started studying algae.”

The following are questions and responses from an interview with Dr. Cattolico:

Q&A: Current work and gender in science

Q. What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a number of things because my interests are really broad-based. I’m working on the evolution on the chloroplast genomes and we have a NSF grant to sequence 40 chloroplast genomes. Then we are looking at harmful algal blooms, organisms that bloom off of the coast here and cause death to finfish. We are looking to identify population diversity in these bloom forming algae. We are also studying lipid biogenesis in algae and how an organism makes the oils that it makes and packages them. This relates to a whole new project that I’m doing about algae to energy transitions. With respect to my past work that I’ve done, there are a few special areas where I think I have changed the paradigm of the field with my contributions. That’s probably in the area of chloroplast biogenesis and I hope now in the biofuels area. I feel like I’ve worked my whole life in the area of algal biology and now I can give back to society in a unique way.

Q. What does being a female scientist mean to you?

When I first came to UW, I taught the intro biology course. I had a graduate student sit in the back of the classroom because I wanted him to give me some feedback. Later, he told me that the students were saying, “Hey! It’s a woman! Wow!” So then I felt that if I did a really good job at what I did as a scientist, that the male students and colleagues would see that a woman was able to do this kind of stuff and the women would know that they could be there too. So all I had to do was a good job and be passionate about what I do. However, I did face some profound challenges as a female faculty member. For example, I adopted my son as a single woman. The support system was nonexistent. I received no leave time so my son lived in the back of my office. I would have to leave early from meetings because I had to be at daycare, and I would get really negative feedback from my male colleagues because of this. It was just a really tough walk but I would never trade in the experience for anything. But I think the support system has really changed for the better now, for both men and women.