Dr. Raymond: From the research lab to the classroom

“Going to the lab is like Christmas morning when you’re looking to see the results of the experiment,” science teacher Victoria Raymond said. “It’s constantly waiting and anticipation to see where you’re going to go that day or that week with that experiment.”

Known for her enthusiasm toward science, Raymond is no stranger to the students at Northwood. However, years before her teaching career started, Raymond was in a lab doing research work on cancer-causing genes.

Her love for science and drive for research was apparent from an early age.

“I was destined to be a lab rat,” Raymond said. “I was a science geek as soon as I could read practically…. I don’t know why, I just find it neat figuring out how things work.”

Raymond decided to attend Davidson College, where she was a part of just the fourth graduating class to include women. She completed her biology degree and became one of the few biology majors not to go to medical school.

“Back in those days, you could count on one hand the biology majors at Davidson not going to med school,” Raymond said. “It was a medical school mill, so everybody looked at you kind of strangely that you weren’t going to med school if you were a biology major, but I didn’t want to go to med school. I didn’t like sick people.”

Raymond can still recall her encounter with a friend trying to explain an area of biology she found fascinating.

“I knew as an undergrad that I was going to do research,” Raymond said. “I distinctly remember as a junior in college sitting down with a girlfriend and trying to explain to her what part of biology I though was just really neat. So that really crystallized for me in my sophomore or junior year. I never looked back. I knew I loved science and I knew I loved life science.”

Raymond headed to the University of Virginia, where she received her PhD in microbiology.

“I went straight from Davidson within about a month to the University of Virginia in the microbiology department there,” Raymond said. “It took me five years, one month and 17 days. I really just went straight from undergrad to grad school at a young and tender age.”

She then completed two post-doctoral fellowships. A post-doctoral fellowship is the completion of research work once someone has finished their PhD.

Raymond chose to work at the Lineberger Cancer Center in Chapel Hill for her first postdoc.

“I liked this area of the country so I applied for a postdoc at [Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center] up at UNC,” Raymond said. “I came down here and I was looking at the mechanisms of cancer at the Lineberger Center for a couple of years, and then I did another postdoc after that in the pathology department at UNC.”

While completing her fellowships, Raymond worked on isolating DNA from cells in order to see the effect it had on the cell.

“You would isolate DNA from different types of cells, and then using molecular techniques, change the sequence of the DNA—the a’s and t’s and c’s and g’s—and then put those changed DNAs back into the organism to see what effect it had,” Raymond said.

Raymond would also look at treatments and the effects they would have on the cell.

“We also looked at cells that had been treated with different things to see what was going on within them, if they ultimately wound up to become cancer cells,” Raymond said. “We were just trying to get the pathways that go from some treatment that we would try to turning that cell into a cancer cell.”

The point of Raymond’s research was not to find a cure for cancer, but rather put together the pieces that could generate a cure.

“All the pieces that go together can ultimately contribute to that [cancer cure],” Raymond said. “My particular work was not going to generate a cure. That’s the distinction between pure and applied science. Pure science is the discovery of ‘how- it-works science’ and that’s what I was doing. Once you have enough pure science knowledge, then you can take that to try to effect a cure or a treatment, so mine was not in the clinical aspect at all.”

A lesson Raymond learned during her research work was patience.

“I learned patience in the lab because you’ve got to be willing to take failure a lot,” Raymond said. “Sometimes when you set up experiments to try to find out stuff, either the experiments don’t work or they give you data that you can’t really believe, so you have to do it all over again. You have to cope with that, and it’s a very humbling experience, too, because nothing ever goes right the first time. It can be as trivial as measuring something wrong. You’ve got to scratch your head and say, ‘What’s up? What’s going on?’ It’s an enormous experience for problem solving and patience, a lot of patience.”

In fact, Raymond went through a tough period during her graduate work at UVA.

“I went through a six month stretch in grad school at UVA where nothing worked,” Raymond said. “I was ready to quit, and my mentor, my
lab chief, sat me down and gave me a hard talk to remind me this is sometimes what you do, so I don’t quit now. I never quit.”

Despite obstacles in the road, Raymond’s dissertation did focus on a discovery.

“My graduate work was looking at a particular oncogene, which is a cancer-causing gene, trying to figure out what made it work,” Raymond said. “We were able to make changes in that gene and sort of identify areas of that gene that were very sensitive. If we messed in this area of the gene, we shot it down.”

Raymond furthered her explanation of the process.

“You would actually grow the cells in tissue culture dishes,” Raymond said. “[They were] chicken skin cells. We would grow them in the lab on a flat plastic dish and you would have them bathed with a liquid on top that has nutrients and stuff that the cells need. You could always tell a cancerous cell because ordinarily, these cells kind of fill up the bottom of a dish. They all are pretty flat and they snuggle up next to each other and then they stop and make what’s called a monolayer. But if a cell has been created to be cancerous, it doesn’t know that personal space. It grows and it grows and it grows on top of each other and when you look at them under a microscope you see what are called foci, which are little bumps of cancerous cells.”

When Raymond had her second child, she took a family hiatus. During this time, she worked as a volunteer at Perry Harrison and started her teaching career by participating in NC Teach, a program that allows people with non-education degrees to get into the classroom.

Whether it’s in the classroom or the research lab, Raymond has always been absorbed by science.

“It’s all fascinating, awesome stuff,” Raymond said. “I love science, I really do.”

-By Byron Aguilar