Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Hong Sun

  • 2003-Jan-14 – 2003-Jan-15
Portrait of Hong Sun
Hong Sun

Hong Sun was born and raised in Beijing, China, during the Cultural Revolution, the older of two siblings. Both of her parents were physicians who, later in their careers, focused more on medical research than practice—her mother in pathology, her father in immunology. Life during the Revolution provided a "chaotic" education at times, including a year of re-education in the countryside at the end of high school, and also family separation (Sun's parents were sent to the countryside for several years for re-education, while Sun remained in Beijing under her grandmother's care). The rise of Deng Xiaoping to power after Chairman Mao brought a return of the college admission program, giving Sun the ability to develop and pursue her interest in science, attending Beijing Medical College, from which she received her medical degree. She also took part in the basic research program at the medical school, studying the binding affinity of monoclonal antibodies against aflatoxin for her thesis. Wanting to move more into research Sun received first place in the China United States Biochemistry Examination and Admission (CUSBEA) program examination and attended Harvard University for her doctoral study on the merits of its prestige, especially in the field of biomedical science. At Harvard, while adjusting to American culture, Sun worked with Jack W. Szostak on the recombination process in meiosis. From there she moved on to a postdoctoral position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York with Nicholas K. Tonks researching the protein tyrosine phosphatase and MKP-1—her husband, also a scientist, took a position there as well. Interested most by research, Sun sought out a position at a research university, and, along with her husband, took a position at Yale University. Throughout the interview, Sun compares various aspects of American and Chinese life and culture, including the educational systems and the practice of science. At the end of the interview she discusses her time at Yale, including setting up her laboratory, learning about the tenure process, teaching, and balancing her family and career; she notes as well that her recent research on protein tyrosine phosphatases and the mechanism of tumor formation has potential short-term and long-term applications in the areas of cancer research and aging. The interview concludes with Sun's reflections on gender issues in science; collaborations between industry and the academy; the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences on her work; and changes she would make to improve the quality of science in the United States.

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