Wipawee “Joy” Winuthayanon is an Assistant Professor at Washington State University. She sat down with us (virtually) to discuss her work, her career and some thoughts on the challenges of the previous year:
Multiple types of cells in that female reproductive tract work in concert to provide an optimal microenvironment for gametes (eggs and sperm) and embryos to establish a successful pregnancy. At Winuthayanon Lab, we focus on addressing how ovarian steroid hormones (estrogen and progesterone) affect fertility during sperm migration, fertilization, embryo development, and embryo transport within the female reproductive tract. We use conditional knockout mouse models to dissect the molecular mechanisms and functional requirement of estrogen and progesterone signals through their classical nuclear receptors (estrogen receptor; ESR1 and progesterone receptor; PGR) during early pregnancy. Our research aims to provide fundamental knowledge in reproductive biology during early pregnancy as well as potential contraceptive targets for women and therapeutic approaches for infertility in humans.
What is your current position and what does it entail?
As an assistant professor at the Washington State University (WSU), my day-to-day responsibility is mostly conducting research and securing extramural grants. I also teach a course for senior students in our department each Fall about stem cell and assisted reproductive technologies. In Spring, I teach a 5-week module about molecular cell signaling to our 1st-year graduate students.
Can you talk a little bit about yourself, where are you from? What first attracted you to the world of science? And how did you get to be in your current position?
I am from Thailand. I first became interested in pregnancy and reproductive biology when I underwent midwife training in nursing school at Mahidol University in Thailand. I moved to the US. in 2009 for my post-doctoral position at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. For this current position, I was interested in applying for the job because of the strength of the Center for Reproductive Biology at WSU. However, I thought my chance of getting the job was slim because I had no grant with me. But when I went to the Gordon Conference meeting in 2014, I happened to be sitting next to Dr. Tom Spencer (he was at WSU at a time), and I talked to him about the position. He encouraged me to apply. So, I did, and, obviously, I got the job.
What impact has the pandemic had on your daily activities and your research?
Last Spring through the Summer, the productivity in my lab slowed down drastically due to the stay-at-home order. We also cut down the size of our mouse colonies. We only came to work to take care of our mice. I mostly worked from home during that time. It was difficult at first, but it got easier before Summer ended. Since we couldn't work on the bench as much, we pivoted our energy into writing. We got two review articles published because of that. Then, we started to work in shifts and were able to ramp our research back up in the Fall.
Have you gained any valuable lessons from life during the pandemic?
I learned to be more compassionate. People face difficulties at various levels during the pandemic. For example, there could be many reasons that students miss the class during this difficult time, i.e., have to work to financially support themselves, or do not have an internet connection to attend online classes, etc.
What are you most excited to do over the next year?
Go to scientific meetings and meet people face-to-face!
What words of inspiration would you like to share with the future generation of scientists?
Don't be afraid of failure. Failure is a part of learning. Just get back up and continue doing what you are set to do.