Monica Vetter: Making a Difference in People’s Lives

Portrait of scientist Monica Vetter, PhD

Making A Difference in People’s Lives

Monica Vetter, PhD: My name is Monica Vetter. I’m a Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, Utah.

For me, one experience that has been really remarkable is the opportunity every year to come to the Glaucoma Research Foundation Benefit and meet people who are affected by glaucoma and meet families that are struggling with that. And that’s not something that always happens. When you’re a scientist you deal with a problem in a more abstract way, but it really hammered home the urgency of what we’re trying to do, how important the problem is, and really the impact that the work we do could have on people’s lives.

Every year I go back re-energized and with renewed focus on trying to do something to make a difference here. And I think we all feel that. We meet these remarkable people that are participating in the Glaucoma Research Foundation as donors and supporters, and everyone’s trying to do something and make a difference here, and we sure hope that we can.

“What Inspires Me as a Scientist”

Dr. Vetter: For me, I think, very early on I became interested in neuroscience — science of the brain. And one of the things that I always find fascinating is trying to take different pieces and fit them together. Neuroscience is really an amalgam of many different disciplines, and to really understand how the brain works and is put together, we have to get clues from a lot of different fields and a lot of different work.

And so, I always think of science as a huge jigsaw puzzle, with thousands and thousands of people working on the jigsaw puzzle. And we have to do two things. We have to discover the pieces. So you have to go on a huge undertaking to try to find the pieces in the first place and shed light on them, but then you also have to fit those pieces together. And I find tremendous satisfaction in this.

For me, the “aha” moment is when you start to see connections between things that hadn’t been put together before, and you get this sort of larger knowledge. The picture becomes a little more clear when you start to put a few puzzle pieces in place. And that’s also one of the things that’s really exciting about the consortium is that we’re sharing our puzzle pieces together and we’re really working together to try to make that larger picture happen more quickly. We get a lot more traction when we can work together to assemble that picture than when we try to just hunt for those pieces on our own and make our own little, small piece of the puzzle.

And so it’s really exciting, the discovery of finding those new pieces is amazing. But then, also, to put it into that larger picture; how does this give us insight into how the eye works, how the brain works, and what’s going wrong in these terrible diseases? We have to gather a lot of clues and try to tell that larger story.


First posted December 22, 2011; Last reviewed June 22, 2022