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Paula Yurkanis Bruice was raised primarily in Massachusetts, Germany, and Switzerland and was graduated from the Girls' Latin School in Boston. She received an A.B. from Mount Holyoke College and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Virginia. She received an NIH postdoctoral fellowship for study in biochemistry at the University of Virginia Medical School, and she held a postdoctoral appointment in the Department of Pharmacology at Yale Medical School.
She is a member of the faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she has received the Associated Students Teacher of the Year Award, the Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award, and two Mortar Board Professor of the Year Awards. Her research interests concern the mechanism and catalysis of organic reactions, particularly those of biological significance. Paula has a daughter and a son who are physicians and a son who is a lawyer. Her main hobbies are reading mystery/suspense novels and her pets (three dogs, two cats, and a parrot).