Postdoctoral Alumni - Vikki Weake



Vikki Weake
Assistant Professor of Biochemistry
Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

Vikki Weake knew little about the US when she flew here in 2005 from her native New Zealand for a postdoc interview with Stowers Investigator Jerry Workman. “I arrived at that perfect time in Kansas City when the tulips were out,” she says. “I thought, ‘This looks like an undiscovered paradise!’”

Weake spent three days interviewing at Stowers and then attended a scientific meeting with other Workman postdocs. By the end of the visit she made up her mind to join the lab—something she never regretted, even when she returned to Kansas City the following November to find it snowing in paradise.

At that time Workman was moving into Drosophila as a model system to test how the chromatin modifying complex SAGA, first characterized by Workman in yeast, regulated gene expression. He needed a postdoc with fly expertise, and Weake was the right candidate, having just earned her Ph.D. in Drosophila genetics with Max Scott at Massey University in New Zealand.

In her seven years at Stowers, first as a postdoc and then as a senior research associate, Weake worked with Workman to characterize fly SAGA, often in collaboration with developmental biologist Susan Abmayr, an associate investigator at Stowers. In 2008 Weake led a study published in EMBO Journal reporting that SAGA mutations caused aberrations unique to the fly visual system, a discrepancy she describes as a “complete shock” given SAGA’s ubiquity. In 2011, that specificity was explained in her Genes & Development paper showing that SAGA bound many genes but only activated a fraction of them.

In August of 2012, Weake left Stowers to become Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Purdue, where she continues studying SAGA’s role in the nervous system. There, she apparently hit the ground running, thanks in part to advice from young faculty at Stowers. “They gave me a list of things to do and not do,” she says. “I had my lab set up in a month.”

But above all, Weake credits Workman for her success in making the postdoc/faculty member transition. “I can’t say enough good things about Jerry and the Workman lab,” she says, noting that Workman helped her develop a project that would serve as the basis for her own lab, something that not all mentors do.  “Jerry is very generous. His work will always influence me and I hope someday to influence him.”