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Scientific transitions: Mammalian meiosis expert Paula Cohen’s journey from uterus to gonad

In science, as in life, chance opportunities have the potential to open up exciting new doors. Paula Cohen, a researcher at Cornell University, USA, and member of the PLOS Genetics Editorial Board, took advantage of one such opportunity, and made a rewarding career change from implantation biology to mammalian cell development and meiosis. This blog post continues our PLOS Genetics Editor series, where we ask our editors about their research and experience of editing for an Open Access publisher.


A changing scientific career

I started out my scientific life studying maternal-fetal dialog during implantation, a fascinating area of biology to me because it represents a stage in which an entire individual – the mother – must change her physiological status from one of waiting for fertilization to occur to one that must now harbor and nourish a developing fetus. My PhD research was carried out in the Department of Physiology at King’s College, University of London, but I came to the US to pursue my postdoctoral studies in implantation biology because I felt that, in order to proceed, I now needed to understand the molecular signals between the maternal and fetal systems. To this end, I moved to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City to work on a family of growth factors that had been implicated (incorrectly, as it turned out!) in these events.

Image credit: Paula Cohen

Various stumbling blocks and lucky breaks befell me while I was doing my postdoctoral research, including one very tenuous request from a neighboring lab to assist them in their research. They were studying the DNA mismatch repair protein, MLH1, for which they’d generated an inactivating mutation in the mouse. The homozygotes turned out to be sterile as a result of defects in meiosis, and knowing that I was the only bone fide reproductive biologist on campus, they turned to me for help. Of course I knew nothing about meiosis or about germ cells, and so started my exciting and wondrous journey from the uterus to the gonad; I’ve never looked back.

My entry into the meiosis field was paved by the generosity of these initial collaborators, who had knocked out every mismatch repair gene, and who allowed me free rein to perform the meiotic phenotypic analysis on all these mice. Meiosis was fascinating to me – not only because it’s a remarkable process, but also because of the many commonalities it shares with DNA repair events in other cells. And also because of the sheer diversity of mechanisms that exist for prophase I events across the eukaryotic spectrum.


Driving quality and advancing the mission of Open Access

My role in PLOS Genetics is that of Associate Editor (AE). I handle manuscripts relating to meiosis in mammals and other model organisms, as well as those relating to mammalian reproduction. I love this role for so many reasons: the editorial staff members are absolutely incredible – so supportive and helpful. As a new AE, I often feel uncertain of what I’m doing, but the staff are always there for suggestions and advice. I also love the energy and humor of the Editors-in-Chief – they care so much about this journal and they work so hard to keep the process flowing. I enjoy taking a small role in the development of a manuscript – particularly when the review process takes an “okay” piece of work and pushes it into the “exceptional” range. Finding reviewers whose only agenda is to make the science better makes me very happy, and when this happens, it’s almost a synergistic process between the authors and the reviewers. And finally, I love receiving happy and grateful emails when a manuscript is accepted – it makes my day every time! My role is to do my job diligently and to ensure that the quality of the review process at PLOS Genetics is exceptional. Only by doing this can we ensure that authors will think of PLOS first in their journal decisions, and this in turn will promote and advance the mission of Open Access.


Competing interests: Paula Cohen is an Associate Editor for PLOS Genetics.


Credit for featured header image: J. Kim Holloway and colleagues (2008)


This post is the third in our series featuring the journal’s editors, and follows on from an initial post by Cancer Genetics Section Editors, David Kwiatkowski and Peter McKinnon, and a second post by plant epigeneticist and Associate Editor, Ortrun Mittelsten Scheid. Watch this space for future installments.

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