Meet the WinRs: Mary B. Zelinski, PhD

Associate Professor in the Division of Reproductive & Developmental Sciences at the Oregon National Primate Research Center


What is your background/current position and what does it entail? 

I am an Associate Professor in the Division of Reproductive & Developmental Sciences at the Oregon National Primate Research Center.    My research is centered on understanding the basic mechanisms underlying the development and function of primate ovarian follicles with the goal of applying this knowledge through translational research in important areas of women’s reproductive health.  I have 30 years of experience using nonhuman primate models of infertility and contraception that include pioneering research in development of assisted reproductive technologies in macaques and novel, ovarian-based female contraceptives.  My current research interests are focused on investigating ovarian tissue cryopreservation, 3-dimensional culture of macaque preantral follicles and ferto-protective agents as options for female fertility preservation that have included collaborative efforts within the Oncofertility Consortium.  I have received continuous funding from the NIH since 1998. I was a recipient of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Program Prize paper four times, and was a finalist with my colleagues an additional 4 times, which testifies to the importance of the nonhuman primate model for women’s reproductive research. I have been an invited speaker at many national and international meetings, have numerous manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, and have served as Secretary, Program Chair and on the Board of Directors of the Society for the Study of Reproduction from which I received the Distinguished Service Award in 2014.  I am also passionate about bringing science to the public wherein she directs and participants in many educational outreach activities for adults, high school and middle school students.

What impact has being quarantined had on your daily activities and position?

Working from home was difficult for me.  My husband works from home for his job, so he has the office.  All of my ‘stuff’ is in my office at work.  So, adjusting to the dining room table was difficult.  I was allowed to come into work to attend to some ongoing experiments involving my animals, so the duties associated with monitoring the animals and scheduling procedures that are usually taken care of by my excellent team of research associates, now had to be done by me, which was not a hardship at all. A visit to the lab of a colleague on one of my grants to conduct experiments using his specialized equipment had to be postponed, we were disappointed ted. Also, as many annual meetings of professional scientific societies were canceled, opportunities to give invited talks also disappeared along with being able to connect with friends and colleagues in person.  In addition, spring and summer months are typically primetime for many of our outreach activities for middle and high school students which were all canceled.

What strategies have you adopted in order to create a new "normal" for your daily activities and position? 

My ‘new’ normal is pretty much the same as my ‘previous’ normal, except now I do more things wearing a mask.  I also had to become more patient with my husband and find projects form him to do so I could get things done at home! One invited talk will now be presented virtually as a meeting was revived to continue virtually. For outreach activities, I have given virtual presentations to high school students via Zoom; who doesn't want to learn about reproduction after being stuck at home, right? Since our ability to host hands-on labs was curtailed, we are developing a few instructional videos for teachers and students so they can still learn the concepts and see the science. All in all, the strategy of practicing patience, knowing opportunities will continue either as they were or as a new normal, has been most useful albeit difficult at times.

Have you gained any valuable lessons from being in quarantine? 

Some of the most valuable lessons I learned are a) that the world and our local environment are such better places when we help each other and not let politics shade our view of working together to get through this time; b) many things that seemed so important were not really so; c) take one day at a time; d) keeping in regular contact with loved ones makes every day joyful; e) regularly express appreciation to everyone who makes your job run smoothly, from the animal technicians, surgeons, administrative assistants, lab team members and Department chairs and Directors who have to do so much more red tape than we do.

What expectations have you had to let go or remove from your daily activities and position? 

I had to let go of my expectations that I could work as efficiently at home as I do in my office, I can’t!!

How have you stayed connected with friends and family during this time? 

Phone calls, text messages, and family Zoom get-togethers – we play JackBox every Friday night together.  We also had our adult children go grocery shopping for us since we are in that dreaded ‘aging’ population.  I filled plastic Easter eggs wearing gloves and a mask for all of our grandchildren, and we distributed baskets from afar, talking to the grandkids through our car windows.  A dear colleague of mine in New York City sent me a monkey that she crocheted by hand, wearing a surgical mask; this makes me smile every day!!  I named her Macacarona and she will be our lab mascot moving forward.

What will you do differently once you return to your position?

I will appreciate my team so much more!!  I will need to catch up on manuscript writing.

What are you most excited to do once the pandemic has cleared? 

I am most excited about getting to hug my grandchildren and my family members, and have family dinners together.  And I am excited to VOTE in the next election.

How has being a woman in science affected your experiences and/or position during quarantine?

Being a woman in science, I have had numerous conversations with family and friends about the importance of analyzing actual data rather than believing everything said in the news media or on internet sites, of going to proper sources for information.  There was a lot of misguided anxiety as well as a lot of ‘sugar-coating’ of studies that we discussed together.

What words of inspiration would you like to share to other women in science and the future generation of women in science? 

Be patient, concentrate on the things you can control.  Remember, your MOMMA had to wait 9 MONTHS before she could hug you, and we are only 2.5 months into Covid days…