The team approach

Christine Clark - photo courtesy Mark Thaler
Christine Clark - photo courtesy Mark Thaler

What do highly specialized cancer research and college basketball have in common? Much more than one might think, according to Christine Clark.

During the academic year, Clark -- a psychology major with an interest in pediatrics -- shines as a member of the Harvard women’s basketball team. She was named to the All-Ivy League first team in her sophomore and junior seasons, and enters her senior season as a team captain.

In the summers, the Tucson native returns home to lend a hand with some of the cutting-edge research projects happening at the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

It might not be the typical summer vacation for one of the nation’s top basketball players, but Clark feels that her time in the lab goes a long way toward helping her on the court -- and vice versa.

“Basketball and lab work at this level takes a lot of mental focus and attention to detail,” Clark said. “I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I can do both.”

Clark was one of the city’s top ballplayers during her four years at Tucson High, winning the Southern Arizona Player of the Year award three times. She was among the state’s most sought-after basketball recruits in 2010.

In addition to her exploits on the court, Clark also stood out in the classroom. She was a straight-A student and tallied a 1,770 on the SAT exam. In order to reach her full potential, Clark would need a school that could challenge her, both athletically and intellectually.

“I had never even considered Harvard initially,” Clark said. “I was originally planning on going to Kansas State, but when Harvard started recruiting me, I couldn’t believe it. It was like a dream come true.”

After a strong freshman season where she was named to the Ivy League’s all-rookie team, Clark needed to find a summer job back in Tucson. Ideally, she wanted to find something that could combine her interests in medicine and cancer research, so she personally reached out to David Alberts, MD, to see what opportunities the UACC had available.

“I read through all of his accomplishments and knew how successful he was, so I was kind of intimidated to meet Dr. Alberts at first,” Clark said. “But he was so warm and welcoming from day one. I’ve learned so much from him and I’ll always be thankful that he gave me the opportunity.”

Clark has spent the majority of the last three summers at the UA Cancer Center in some capacity. She is currently working in the Quantitative Histiopathy lab in the field of karyometry — the microscopic study of cell patterns.

She also spent some time shadowing Emmanuel Katsanis, MD, the director of the UACC’s Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program and a standout athlete in his own right (long-distance running).

Clark’s competitive spirit has served her well. She came into her first summer knowing next to nothing about karyometry, but now feels comfortable enough to give a lecture on the topic.

“Whatever I’m doing, I want to be the best at it, and I’m going to work harder than anyone to get to where I want to be,” Clark said.

In addition to her internal drive, Clark is a big believer in the power of teamwork and mentorship. In fact, she sees a lot of similarities between Dr. Alberts and her basketball coach, the legendary Kathy Delaney-Smith. Both individuals have spent more than three decades at the top of their respective fields, and Clark soaks up any wisdom or advice they have to impart like a sponge.

“Nobody achieves their full potential all by themselves,” Clark said. “I always do my best work in a team setting, and I’ve been so lucky to have spent these last few years with organizations that value that team approach.”

-Nick Prevenas, Aug. 12, 2013