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The Doc Who Gives Back

Dr.+Wendie%0AJohnston
Dr. Wendie
Johnston

Dr. Wendie Johnston

J. Aaron Delgado

J. Aaron Delgado

Dr. Wendie Johnston

Adriana Sanchez, Contributor

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Dr. Wendie Johnston is the Lab Director at the Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator and director of the Los Angeles/Orange County Biotech Center. She was recently honored for her contributions to the bioscience community at Cal State LA with the first LA BioStar Award.

Both programs in Pasadena and Los Angeles are designed to provide students with hands-on lab training and work experience in the biotechnology industry. In addition, she has recently retired from Pasadena City College after 44 years of teaching.

Q: You were one of few women in the field of science when you graduated with your Ph.D in zoology in 1968. Did gender impact your academics? 

A: So in my intro to paleo class when I was a senior, they had a field trip out to the marble mountains. It was a small class and most of the guys wanted to go into the oil industry. The professor asked how many of you were going to go so I put my hand up. He said, ‘Ok, Miss Beasley, this is flat ground. There are no bushes. Now, how many of you are going?’ I raised my hand again and then finally he said, ‘I’m sorry, you cannot go.’ I was stunned. I also used to work on an oceanographic vessel that University of California owned, called Valero, and women couldn’t go out overnight; even the woman who I worked for as an undergrad. She was world famous in the science department—world famous. She couldn’t even go out at night. I was fortunate in that for the gentleman that I chose as a major advisor. His wife was a scientist, so I was in a really nice place. I didn’t get any flack, but also, that was a tumultuous time with marching. I’m not a peace and freedom marcher, but I have strong convictions. I just don’t care to make myself a target because it distracts me from what I really want to get done.

Q: What does your typical day at the Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator look like? 

A: My typical day has lots of interruptions. It has lots of questions. We have 21 companies as tenants, so that means there are 21 sources full of questions. ‘Where is the…’, ‘how do I get…’, ‘do you know this’, etc. The real name of my job is lab director, but to be quaint it’s actually lab mom for all those reasons.

Q: In addition to your scientific achievements, you are also a part of an Emmy-award winning documentary, ‘Story of Eric,’  about your first born son. How did that come about?

A: Well, I didn’t get inspired to do it. I was just pregnant. I was trying the Lamaze natural childbirth. I chose that physician because he was one of few that would let my husband in the delivery room at the time. I went for a visit when I was about eight months along. He explained to me that he was part of a group of physicians who was raising money to do a video to show to parents to show them what the real natural childbirth experience was. They filmed me at work. I worked up until my due date and was three weeks late. I called the proder Dave Seltzer on April 1, and joked that he missed it, so they took me in. Eric was born on April 2.

Q: Where do you see biotech advancing in the future? 

A: I would like to see science create more peace. For Christmas, my husband gave me and himself one of the DNA kits.We gave one to each of our kids and their gals. One came in and she’s totally excited about how different she is. She’s got this huge spectrum of things! I think in the knowledge that science gives us, you get a chance to actually examine our internal likes and dislikes and philosophies and things. I really like you. If I found out that you were a partly a Gremlin that wouldn’t be as big a deal as if I didn’t know you. So I think knowledge can be used in peaceful ways.

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About the Photographer
J. Aaron Delgado, Managing Editor
From protests to San Diego Comic Con, J. Aaron has covered a multitude of subjects but has a keen eye for Arts & Entertainment. When he is not covering events he is mainly studying as a Psychology major, photographing different aspects of life, working in film production, or enjoying everything the world has to offer....
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