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Zachary Lippman, 2005 Watson School Graduate, Lives a “Larger-Than” Life

Exceptional Student Earns Ph.D. and Starts a Family Within Four Years

For Zachary B. Lippman, enrolling in the Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory was not enough of a challenge. Since entering the Watson School in 2000, he has published in several prominent scientific research journals, received the prestigious Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award and became a husband and father (twice!). On April 17, 2005, he will add to his list of recent accomplishments by receiving a Ph.D. in only four years.

“ With the expectation of completing their course work and thesis dissertation in four to four and a half years (approximately two years less time than traditional Ph.D. programs), the Watson School students are already overachievers,” Lilian Clark Gann, Dean of the Watson School of Biological Sciences, commented. “Zach Lippman, having accomplished all that he has in the time that he has, proved to us that he is in a class by himself.”

As a teenager, Zach’s job on a local farm in Milford, Connecticut, taught him – among other things – how to grow competition-sized “giant pumpkins” and caused him to question why they grow so large. This hobby, which he maintains today (see photo), influenced Zach to study plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University as an undergraduate. He graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2000, having completed his Honors Thesis with Dr. Steven Tanksley on the genetic basis of natural variation in tomato fruit size.

After pursuing what he characterizes as an “unusually focused” undergraduate program, Zach’s thoughts broadened to more fundamental biological questions, inspiring him to pursue an academic career at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory because it offered broad training in the life sciences.

In addition, Zach was attracted to the small class size at the Watson School and the “case-based learning” in which he was asked to “look at science from the perspective of experienced biologists and critically assess their thought processes.”

As a Beckman Graduate Student at the Watson School, Zach studied how “jumping genes,” or transposons, cause DNA and its associated proteins to become tightly packed into a structure called heterochromatin that then has the ability to regulate gene activity. Zach carried out his research on a plant known as Arabidopsis, or “mustard weed,” under the watchful eye of his research advisor Dr. Rob Martienssen and with the history of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory corn geneticist Barbara McClintock, who won the Nobel Prize in 1983 for her discovery of transposons.

Zach successfully defended his thesis in December 2004, and his exceptional research earned him the 2005 Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award sponsored by the Basic Sciences division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (see related story). This international award, which is given to only 15 graduate students throughout the United States and Canada annually, is based on the quality, originality and significance of their work.

“I can say that I’ve grown since coming to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as a Watson School student more than four years ago. Looking in from the outside, one might say that I’ve become a promising young scientist, which I certainly like to think is true. But I would also say that I’ve become a good colleague, friend, husband and father,” Zach reflected.

In 2002, Zach married his college sweetheart, Shira Golan, a dental resident at Stony Brook University who completed her dental degree last summer. The couple then welcomed the birth of their daughters Nava, 2, and Adina, six weeks.

“ We are both motivated and dedicated people, and while our careers are obviously important to us, we didn’t want to wait to start a family. It was hard and it was stressful, but we knew it was temporary,” Zach remarked. “I have learned some important lessons about what is required to delicately balance the goals of a career with family. These worlds have run parallel to each other, and while I am fortunate to have a Science and a Nature paper, I realize that I am even more fortunate to have Nava and Adina.”

In August, the Lippmans will move from Commack, NY to Israel where Zach will conduct his postdoctoral studies. Zach will resume work on natural variation in tomato using what he now refers to as his “entirely new perspective on the study of life.” While there, Zach will work alongside Dr. Dani Zamir, a pioneer in this particular field.

“ Dani was studying natural variation and the genes that control subtle differences in the way different tomato varieties look and grow since the 1980s when only a few other scientists were interested in this field, and now it is suddenly gaining a lot of attention because these same questions apply to why humans and all organisms have subtle differences between them. The tomato is up and coming and will be there to address these important biological questions, and that is where I want to be,” Zach reasoned.

Based on all that he has achieved, that comes as no surprise.

The Watson School of Biological Sciences was founded in 1999 as a doctoral degree-granting educational program of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The curriculum guides the development of a small number of outstanding Ph.D. candidates into creative and independent scientists. Unlike traditional Ph.D. programs, in which candidates often spend six or more years to obtain a degree, the Watson School is structured to grant the Ph.D. degree after only four years of intensive study. For more information, visit

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is a private, non-profit basic research institution. Under the leadership of Dr. Bruce Stillman, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society (London), more than 330 scientists at the Laboratory conduct groundbreaking research in cancer, neurobiology, plant genetics, and bioinformatics.

For more information, visit

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