Member Spotlight on Yukiko Yamashita, PhD

Hometown: Kobe, Japan
Currently Resides: Ann Arbor, MI
Graduate Degree: Kyoto University
Postdoc Work: Stanford School of Medicine
Current Position: Associate Professor, Department of Cell & Developmental Biology
University of Michigan Medical School


What is your area of expertise and the current focus of your research? 

My focus is asymmetric stem cell division. In graduate school, I became interested in how cells generate exact copies of themselves, and then further in the idea of asymmetric cell division, whereby a tweak causes a cell to produce two daughter cells that are a bit different from one another (but, of course, not deleteriously asymmetric, as is the case with aneuploidy). My interest is actually in asymmetry, not stem cells per se, but stem cells happen to be a population that often depends on asymmetric division.

Have you always been interested in science?

I have always wanted to solve problems, and I believe I wanted to be a scientist very early on, even before I understood the profession and realized science could be a job. 

What do you like most about living in the United States?

The US culture encourages creativity and risk taking, which is so important in research. As a scientist, I am able to be myself and explore nature based solely on my own logic and curiosity and without the fear of failure. 

What is your greatest pleasure in life?

I love watching and helping people grow, both as a mentor and as a parent. I have a 9-year-old daughter, and she keeps me from being carried away by my career. I have found parenting keeps you grounded and forces you to prioritize what is important. For me, it means time away from my job, and these forced breaks allow me to look at my science with refreshed eyes. I am more organized and more productive because I am a mom.

What is one thing that your peers or colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?

I did not get my U.S. driver’s license until I moved to Michigan, and even then, I put it off as long as possible. I never drove much in Japan, where the public transportation is wonderful, and I was able to get around without a car during my time in California. I was proud of myself when I finally made the commitment and took the test!

What do you gain from your membership with ISSCR?

For me, joining ISSCR is automatic. It means being part of a community. Even though ISSCR is big and spans a lot of different areas, I still feel a sense of belonging and a connection to other members through our shared work and purpose.