Employee of the Month - Lisa McPherson

June 2016Division of Oncology

Lisa McPherson

The story about Lisa McPherson that’s shared again and again is how she helped a new member of her lab cope with a sudden illness. Colleague Meredith Mills tells it this way: “We had a post doc scholar from Finland joining our lab for the year, and she arrived in late November.  Unfortunately, her family [wasn’t] joining her until the beginning of the year. [When] the post doc suddenly came down with a very debilitating medical problem, Lisa immediately came to her rescue.  She brought dinner/food to her at her new, very empty home. She took her to the hospital and doctor appointments and checked up on her every day to see how she was recuperating.”

Mills adds, “She has always been the ‘mother’ of the lab.”

Team player and mentor

To hear Lisa tell it, however, she’s just part of the family: “We are a small group, but everyone is very supportive of each other. That makes coming to work something to look forward to,” she says.

But as research associate and lab manager in the Ford Lab, mentoring is a big part of what Lisa does day-to-day. In a typical day, she says she’s “running experiments for a number of basic science research projects, mentoring undergraduates in the lab (particularly in the summer when we have students come from Dixie State University in Utah as part of the collaboration with Intermountain Health), coordinating patient samples for our clinical studies and keeping the lab up and running in regards to ordering, health and safety requirements and personnel training.”

Iva Petrovchich says that while the daily work can be quite technical, Lisa is most importantly a team player and a mentor. Specifically, Iva says, “Lisa's work focuses on the genetic determinants of the inducible response and cellular sensitivity to DNA damaging cytotoxic agents, focusing particularly on the effects of the p53 and BRCA1 gene products on DNA repair and apoptosis. Beyond the intensity and scope of her work, she is a mentor and a wonderful colleague.”

Mills agrees. She says, “Lisa [not only] mentors all the students, interns and research assistants that pass through the Ford Lab but also really takes an interest in each and every one of them.  She always inquires about their interests and is very supportive of them in all that they do, including attending events outside of work that others in the lab are passionate about. I feel very lucky to have Lisa in the lab taking care of everything and everybody.” 

Lab culture

That warmth and caring isn’t by accident: Lisa has a clear vision for the workplace. She says, “I try to set the culture of the lab to be a welcoming and friendly place to work.” And so she leads by example. Co-worker Alexandra Ooms says, “Lisa always goes above and beyond her duties to support her co-workers. She is incredibly patient and kind. Whether planning employee going-away parties or helping colleagues who are ill, she is the first one to step in.”

Maria Haanpaa sees these qualities in Lisa, as well. She says, “Lisa is a constant resource of knowledge and does everything she can to help us. All her work requires a lot of flexibility because there are so many people who require different things for different projects. She always thinks ahead and has great follow-up. Lisa holds our team together through her exemplary optimism, undying energy and sincere desire for teamwork. She is the glue that holds everything together.”

Priorities and balance

Holding it all together can be a challenge, but Lisa welcomes it. “No two days are the same,” she says. “To me, a successful day is one in which I learn something new. My position at Stanford provides plenty of opportunities to keep learning and challenging myself.”

One of the ways it’s possible for Lisa to do so much for the lab and her family (she’s a mother of three) is that she makes time for herself and her health. She says, “I make it a priority to fit in a HIP class each day. The instructors are top notch, and it gives me the opportunity to take a break, stay healthy and meet people from outside of the SOM.” Lisa’s colleagues know this part of Lisa well. Petrovchich describes her as “perhaps the most committed BeWell advocate you will ever meet.” Among Lisa’s favorite HIP classes – she’s a lifelong dancer – are ballet and Chinese dance.

In addition to health and wellness classes on campus, Lisa is an avid gardener and cook who likes experimenting both in the kitchen and garden.  She enjoys many outdoor activities, including kayaking, camping and backpacking. After a recent trip to Egypt and Jordan, she has started a bucket list of places she wants to visit.

Lisa is a native Californian who received her PhD in molecular biology (with an emphasis in reproductive endocrinology) from the University of Wyoming. She started at Stanford as a post-doc in 1994 in Ron Weigel's lab studying estrogen-responsive breast cancer. She later became a research associate in that same lab where she worked until joining Alan Krensky's pediatric immunology lab in 2002. Lisa started her current position in Jim Ford's lab in 2007.