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Love is in the lab? UNC professors share stories of working alongside spouses


Paul and Amy Maddox met in 1996 at a research station, and are now married. They both work as cell biologists at the University. Photo courtesy of the Maddoxes.

This week, it seems that love can be found just about anywhere on campus, particularly in the biology department. We asked three married professor couples to describe what it's like to work alongside their spouses in one of the University’s most well-known departments. 

Professors Kerry Bloom and Elaine Yeh 

Biology professors Kerry Bloom and Elaine Yeh met at UC-Santa Barbra. They came to Chapel Hill 35 years ago. Photo courtesy of Yeh and Bloom.

Biology professors Kerry Bloom and Elaine Yeh met and have spent most of their lives in the world of academia. 

“We met when I was a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, and Kerry was a post-doc there in the same lab,” Yeh said. 

Yeh, a research associate professor, and Bloom, a Thad L. Beyle Distinguished Professor, originally came to Chapel Hill 35 years ago when Bloom was offered a job. They work together supervising both undergraduate and graduate students’ research. 

The professors said their work is collaborative, not competitive. 

“I am the more wacky one, and Elaine will shoot down my ideas," Bloom said. "I definitely appreciate her brutal honesty."

Yeh described herself as more grounded than her husband, but together they are a team.  

The two professors’ offices are just down the hall from each other, and they said their motto is that at work they have quantity time, not quality time. While biology is an important part of their lives, Bloom and Yeh do not talk much about work at home. 

“Our daughter, when she was younger, said we could not talk science at the dinner table,” Yeh said. “Now, she’s a graduate student at Duke in biology and she talks science to her daughters, so she has broken her own rule!” 

Professors Paul and Amy Maddox 

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Paul and Amy Maddox met in 1996 at a research station, and are now married. They both work as cell biologists at the University. Photo courtesy of the Maddoxes.

As a married couple who are also coworkers, biology professors Amy and Paul Maddox have firsthand knowledge of the power of collaboration. 

“We understand the challenges that we’re facing, and we know what it means to do the things that we’re doing. We understand the victories,” Amy Maddox said. 

They met each other at the University of Chicago's Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which is on Cape Cod. 

“It’s a very old science research station that is famous for a lot of discoveries due to the access to sea creatures,” Paul Maddox said. “We were both there doing research in the summer of 1996.” 

Both professors are cell biologists at the University. 

“Our jobs are very similar in the grand scheme of things, but we’re very different in cell biology land,” Amy Maddox said. “Paul relies more on technology, I’m more involved in teaching and mentoring.” 

Each week, the professors attend the same meetings, and on Fridays, they have joint lab meetings. They have also coauthored several papers. 

“We each have our own strengths, and we complement each other in a lot of ways,” Paul Maddox said. 

He believes that while the entire department is collaborative, married couples who work together in science are becoming more common. 

“This is a growing cultural thing. It’s natural that you’re drawn to someone with a like way of thinking, I believe," Paul Maddox said. "I think it’s something that people shouldn’t necessarily shy away from. Two people can have a synergistic effect.” 

Professors Jean and Peter DeSaix

Jean and Peter DeSaix met as UNC graduate students 50 years ago. Photo courtesy of the DeSaixes.

Since arriving at the University as graduate students 50 years ago, biology professors Jean and Peter DeSaix have watched Carolina change in many ways. 

“She was the token female in the class,” Peter DeSaix said. “She was expected to serve coffee and cookies at seminars, even though I didn’t expect it of her.” 

Jean DeSaix said that strangely enough, she was grateful to be that female in the class and at the time, the role seemed reasonable to her. 

The couple said a notable change has been the University’s determination to work toward inclusivity. 

“Gender identity, racial, socioeconomic, ability level, the drive to work for inclusivity is a fabulous change that I have seen,” said Jean DeSaix. 

Over the course of their careers, Peter DeSaix has worked in private industry, University administration, data management and has taught continuing education courses, while Jean DeSaix has regularly taught introductory-level biology courses. 

They said the University has become more supportive of teaching excellence, whereas the main emphasis used to be research. The DeSaixes currently teach Biology 101, both online and via correspondence through the Friday Center to students that include part-time learners and incarcerated individuals. 

Now, their most important focus is supporting and mentoring students. Peter DeSaix said they have jump-started cars, cared for students who had their wisdom teeth removed and hosted an 'Egg-Stravaganza,' where students came to their home for an omelet night. 

“We’re big cheerleaders for them," Jean DeSaix said. "Where can they get a home cooked meal? Where can you just go get a hug?”