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Ygnacio Valley High alum and her husband are world leaders in science research
Posted 11/19/21

Holly Ingraham

Nobel Prize winner David Julius and his wife Holly Ingraham are Walnut Creek residents and UCSF leaders in scientific research. Ingraham is an Ygnacio Valley HS alum whose scientific inspiration came from a microscope given to her at age 10 by her great-grandfather, as well as the biology and chemistry classes she took in high school, which she ways were "instrumental in getting me into science."


In biology, she learned about DNA and was so fascinated that she went to the local library to research the topic further, sparking her interest in molecular biology. And in chemistry, she aced the organic lab work and impressed her teacher so much that he helped her get an internship at Dow Chemical, which was located in Walnut Creek at the time.


She went onto earn Bachelors Degrees in Biology and Psychology with high honors from UC San Diego, then a Doctorate Degree in Physiology and Pharmacology from UC San Diego before becoming a faculty member and researcher at UCSF.  


She first met Julius at a scientific conference in Copenhagen, where they sat next to each other because they were seated in alphabetical order by last name. They are both interested in helping under-represented students in the field develop a love of science and would be interested in speaking at Ygnacio Valley High about their own scientific journeys, she said.


"For a scientist, what education is all about is following your curiosity," she said. "You drive the show yourself in terms of finding knowledge. It's about knowing that if you are interested in something, you can start discovering on your own what it's all about. I think that's probably the most important feature you can have."

Scientists, she said, must also be resilient and persistent, because some experiments will fail and some of your grant proposals for research will be rejected. "You have to get joy out of the process - out of things that work," she said. "And even when it doesn't work, you have to think it's fun to figure out why it didn't work and why you could make it work."

As a woman starting off in the field when it was very male-dominated, Ingraham said she encountered "implicit bias" and "micro-aggressions" from male supervisors who didn't give her the opportunities and respect she deserved. Now, she said she "calls out" fellow faculty members if she feels they are being insensitive to her or to others. "I speak up about the data and I speak up about issues in terms of underrepresented faculty like women and minorities," she said. "I speak up in a constructive way. Everybody who works at UCSF is very smart and capable of self-reflection. I think that speaking up in a constructive way helps them to do that self-reflection, to create the cultural change that higher education institutions need around the issues of women and underrepresented minorities."

In April, Ingraham was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors for an American scientist. She is proud to point to the science education she received at YVHS as a major contributor to her interest in science. But she lamented that many people in academic science had parents who were scientists or doctors. "My parents weren't and David's parents weren't," she said, noting that this cycle must be broken in order to "create the diversity we need in scientific institutions." 

"Creating a support system for kids that really want to go into science is really what all of our institutions have to do," she said, "starting in high school or middle school, to try to get those kids the support they need."


The message she and her husband want to share with students, she said, is: "public schools are really great and kids who want to do science should stick with it and pursue their curiosity and their passions."



The Diablo Gazette recently published an article about Julius and Ingraham with more details about their work, which you can read here.


Diablo Gazette