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A Conversation with Christine Baumgartner | See previous interviews

Christine Baumgartner
Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Christine Baumgartner

Where were you born and raised? Tell me about your family, please.

I was born in Sursee, near Lucerne, Switzerland. We moved a lot when I was young and I think we'd moved about fourteen times before I went to school. When I was three, we moved to South Africa where I went to kindergarten. This was during the time of apartheid and my parents did not want me to be in touch with that terrible ideology, so we returned to Switzerland. They were looking to settle down, somewhere where they could open a medical practice, and we moved maybe another five times before setting in Murten, a small village with maybe 5,000 people where I continued my schooling through high school before university at Bern. My parents were physicians. My mother is an ophthalmologist and my father is a general internist, and we moved around because residency there is different than it is here. There, we are required to practice in different hospitals. My younger brother is an environmental engineer who is a globe-trotter and he has worked in many countries, so we see each other maybe 2 to3 times a year.

Christine and family

Do you remember much about your time in South Africa?

Only what I can connect with old pictures. My dad worked in a village that consisted of the hospital and a few houses for the doctors, out in the middle of nowhere near the border of Zimbabwe. People lived in rondavels, round huts made of stones and natural materials, in areas called "homelands," segregated areas for "non-White" people, and the hospital served this population.

How many languages do you speak?

I speak four languages: German, French, English, and a bit of Spanish.

What made you want to do research at UCSF? What do you hope to use when you return to Switzerland?

I did this area of research fellowship with my chief back home and wanted to learn more about the methodology of clinical research. I was interested in completing the Master of Clinical Research program and want to stay in the hospital setting as a generalist, but I am interested in anticoagulation because, in practice, so many questions arise about it. I researched who was doing this type of work and found Margaret Fang's profile. My brother had already lived in San Francisco and, when I came for my interview, I felt that I had found a fertile environment. I really hope that I will be able to take what I have learned here and apply that knowledge to other residents and students interested in this area of research.

What sports do you enjoy and are you competitive? Have you discovered favorite bike routes since living and cycling in San Francisco?

I am stereotypically Swiss in that I love the mountains, hiking, skiing, and touring. I think it is amazing to live in a city, travel by train or bus in an hour or two, and then find yourself in a completely different world far away from civilization. I don't like mountain biking because it's too fast—I like to cycle for pleasure. I used to play volleyball and handball competitively but quit when I was in my early twenties. I love to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and take the ferry back, and to Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands.

Christine biking

Where have you traveled since being in California? What other destinations are on your bucket list?

This summer we took a road trip to many of the National Parks: Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, and Joshua Tree and it was lovely. We went to Yosemite, Mexico, and took a long weekend to Hawaii. I would like to go to Yellowstone but I am afraid of seeing a grizzly bear! In Spring, I would like to go back to Yosemite and then to Death Valley, to see the wildflowers, and Sequoia National Park.

Would you rather, on a cold and rainy day, be outside or curled up with a good book? What kind of book might it be?

I think I'd rather be curled up with a good book and hot chocolate. I read a lot, although not so much lately because of my studies. I can read a book all day when I get the chance, like on vacation. I like big, thick books because it takes a while to get comfortable with the author's style of writing. I like Russian authors, like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and German writers, like Hermann Hesse, and Swiss authors, like Pascal Mercier, who is a professor of philosophy in Berlin.

Do you prefer fine dining or street food? Have you a favorite comfort food that always cheers you up?

Both! I very much like street food when traveling, especially throughout Asia, it's the best. I also like to have the occasional very nice dinner as well. I love to cook, although I am not a creative cook. I go to farmers' markets on Saturdays to see what kinds of vegetables are available. And I love Italian food. One of the Swiss national dishes is raclette: melted cheese over potatoes, and it is so good. Here is one recipe.

You are living in the United States during volatile times. What has made an impression on you?

Before coming here and during the presidential election, I was apprehensive. I feel very much that, here in San Francisco, and throughout much of California, people band together against hate and discrimination against other people. Such a political climate is very scary because similar events are happening elsewhere and in Switzerland, too. People are afraid of what they don't know, so immigration is a big concern. At home, we get to vote on almost everything that could impact us, initiatives and laws, and there is a movement toward conservatism. I am happy to see how people here are very proud of their diversity and I like when the Chancellor sends emails reinforcing that UCSF is inclusive.

Who do you regard as an inspirational world leader and what qualities do you regard as admirable?

Nelson Mandela is an inspirational leader. I admired him for being forgiving after all that had been done to him and being able to transition South Africa from apartheid to integration without bloodshed. I admired Barack Obama for being smart and thoughtful. He didn't just talk about whatever came into his mind, and truly wanted the best for everyone.

What stories do you remember from your grandmothers?

One grandmother was born in 1912 in the Alsace, on the border with Switzerland, before the first World War. Back then, they executed people using the guillotine, this barbaric and medieval device. She and other townspeople were invited to the town square to watch an execution of a prisoner who tried to flee. It still upsets me that someone I know witnessed this. My other grandmother was able to break out of the conventions of the time when it was exceptional for a woman to want to go to school and have a profession. She became a teacher and she, also, was inspirational to me.

Christine and grandma

Define Swiss time.

It is cliché, but I get mad if a train in Switzerland is two minutes late. Swiss time is precise. Since being here, I've gotten used to the N-Judah circulating on scheduled times and I've become maybe not as punctual since I realized that meetings may not begin exactly at the time they are scheduled.

Christine, thank you.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Christine's professional bio | See previous faculty interviews