When Helen Kim and Ronald Cohen presented their research, cupid was waiting.
Helen Kim and Ronald Cohen were just a year apart at Cornell University Medical College, and their labs were on adjacent floors. Both had HHMI medical student fellowships. But they never discovered each other until they came to HHMI headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Cupid took it from there.
It was back in May 1990 when Kim and Cohen were invited by fellow Cornell medical student Thomas C. Lee to fly together to present their research at HHMI's annual gathering of medical student fellows. Although Kim and Cohen had never met, they spent the flight trying to bolster each other's confidence. "We were stressing out about giving our talks," Kim explains.
The next day, Kim gave her presentation on the significance of the large sperm numbers in the female reproductive tract, and Cohen spoke on the regulation of neuroblast mitosis in the developing central nervous system. By evening, with their talks behind them, they were ready to celebrate. They invited Lee to join them, but he begged off; he was still rehearsing his own presentation for the following day.
Over dinner, Kim and Cohen discovered that they had a lot in common. Both were native New Yorkers; both were working in labs and planned careers in research. They even shared an interest in endocrinology.
When they got back to New York, they started to date. Lee didn't realize that his friends were romantically involved until he bumped into them returning together from a movie. "At first, I felt bad because they'd left me out," he recalls. "I even said, 'I can't believe you guys went out without me.' Then I realized that they were dating."
Kim graduated from medical school in 1991 and moved to Boston for a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at The Brigham and Women's Hospital. Cohen, who still had a year of medical school to go, followed for an internal medicine residency at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. They married in 1992, and stayed in Boston on postdoctoral fellowships. Two daughters, Jessica and Joanna, came along in 1994 and 1998.
Marriage can be a formidable barrier for professionals like Kim and Cohen. When opportunity knocks for one, what happens to the other's career? "In our case, it's turned out to be a plus," says Kim. When their postdoctoral mentors, Fredric E. Wondisford and Sally Radovick-who are also a married couple-moved from Boston to the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine last year, they recruited Kim and Cohen to join them in junior faculty positions. Now Cohen works with Wondisford on the thyroid hormone receptor and its interaction with co-repressor proteins. Kim is doing research with Radovic on gonadotropic releasing hormone (GnRH), which helps control reproduction. Both hope to stay in research.
And their fellow Cornell alumnus who skipped the fateful dinner to practice his research presentation? Tom Lee is now an ophthalmologist at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center and is proud of his role as cupid. "They definitely were destined for each other," he says.