Violet Lee

Lead Scientist, Genentech – South San Franscisco, CA


Ellicott City, MD

Undergraduate Institution

Hillsdale College

Ph.D. Studies


Title of Ph.D. Dissertation

Characterization and development of quantitative proteomic methods for systems-level interrogation of dynamic stress-induced changes in yeast.

You have two degrees from two places, a Master’s from UI-UC and a PhD from UW-Madison. What advice would you give a scientist contemplating graduate school?

When I started grad school, at least when I first went to Illinois, there were many different types of research that I could see myself working on, but I didn’t spend as much time delving into each group’s research as I could have. When meeting with those groups during interviews, ask them about projects that they foresee that you can be part of. It can be easy to feel like you’re getting lost, so ask about projects that you’re excited about, and get involved in the smaller ones that can feed into a larger project.

The best piece of advice I got from a senior grad student was to always think about a project you’re considering starting or your PI wants to start in terms of a dissertation. It’s a skill to be able to see a larger question and break it down into doable parts. You want to tell a full and coherent story, and each chapter is a part of that. It’s always good to try to start a project with focus, since it’s very easy to get distracted by shiny things and want to try everything. When I got to Wisconsin, I had begun learning this lesson, and so when I met with Josh I told him straightforwardly what I had been working on and what I wanted to do, and he said, “Okay!”

“I learned how to see a problem from many viewpoints and to articulate my viewpoint to effectively make an argument for something I feel strongly about.”

How did your graduate training prepare you for your current job?

I work on antibody drug conjugates at Genentech in San Francisco. Genentech is known as the first Biotech company; it got an entire industry started. The first product on the market was related to insulin, but the next big blockbuster was an antibody targeted at HER2+ breast cancer, Herceptin.

My work now uses mass spectrometry to study antibodies, but besides mass spec is not related to what I did in grad school. Really what I took away was a skill set. I learned how to work independently, which helps you do well in industry. I learned how to see a problem from many viewpoints and to articulate my viewpoint to effectively make an argument for something I feel strongly about. Especially when everyone is passionate about what they’re working on, being able to explain your viewpoint with compelling science and bring people around to it is a skill.

Earn your Ph.D. with us

The Coon Group is always on the lookout for new members.  Professor Coon accepts students from several UW-Madison doctoral programs including Chemistry, the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB), and Cellular & Molecular Pathology.