Oral history interview with Yixian Zheng

Oral history interview with Yixian Zheng

  • 2003-Sep-09 – 2003-Sep-11

Yixian Zheng was born and raised in Chongqing, the Sichuan province of China, the elder (by about nine years) of the family's two daughters. Both of her parents were professors at Chongqing University—her mother in metallurgy and her father in mechanical engineering—her extended family members were, predominantly, farmers and other tradesmen. She went to elementary school on the campus of Chongqing University with dreams of becoming a writer like her father had been before settling into engineering. The end of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s brought about a radical change in Zheng's education as there was much competition to get into college; ultimately she decided to pursue science and technology instead of writing as a career path. She entered Sichuan University in Chengdu intent on studying biology, which, at the time, had more of a relationship, in her mind, to forestry and being outdoors. While there, Zheng was very active in extracurricular activities and became interested in cell biology after taking a course with an influential professor, Wenshi Pan. When she had not made a decision on her plans after graduation, Zheng went to work for Southwestern Agricultural University in Chongqing as an instructor for two years. Upon encouragement from her father, who, at the time, was a visiting professor in the United States at the University of Akron in Ohio, Zheng took the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and then applied for admission to Ohio State University's graduate program. After being accepted, she worked in Berl R. Oakley's laboratory and determined that science was her calling; her graduate thesis focused on gamma tubulin and centrosome function. Zheng completed her doctorate and took a postdoctoral position in Bruce Alberts's laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco, where she continued research on centrosome function and purification of the gamma tubulin complex. Zheng and her husband, Max Q. B. Guo, who was also a scientist, then had to deal with the two-body problem; Zheng accepted a position at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Baltimore, Maryland and her husband came along to finish his postdoctoral research. At the Carnegie Institute, her research on microtubules led to a collaboration with Douglas E. Koshland. At the end of the interview, Zheng speaks about her greatest strengths in research; the manner in which she sets research priorities; and her future research. Additionally, she discusses issues such as competition in science, generating new research ideas, and the qualities of a good science. Both technology and the choice of her model system have influenced her research, and Zheng explores both factors at length. She also talks about other aspects of being a principal investigator, including her research process, tenure, grants, teaching, and balancing family with career. Lastly, Zheng discusses the impact the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences has had on her work.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 91 pages
  • 04:36:21
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

Physical location

Physical container
  • Shelfmark R134.86.Z4464 A5 2003

Interviewee biographical information

  • December 31, 1969
  • Chongqing, China


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1984 Sichuan da xue BS Biology
1992 Ohio State University PhD Molecular Genetics

Professional Experience

Southwestern Agricultural University

  • 1984 to 1987 Lecturer

University of California, San Francisco

  • 1992 to 1996 Postdoctoral Fellow

Johns Hopkins University

  • 1996 to 2002 Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Biology
  • 2000 to 2002 Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Biology

Carnegie Institution of Washington

  • 1996 Staff Member, Department of Embryology

Johns Hopkins University. School of Medicine

  • 2000 to 2002 Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • 2000 to 2002 Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

  • 2000 HHMI Investigator


Year(s) Award
1997 to 2001 Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant
1997 to 2006 NIH R01 Research Grants (Awarded by NIGMS)
1999 Women in Cell Biology Award, the American Society for Cell Biology
2000 HHMI Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institution

Cite as

Yixian Zheng, interviewed by Andrea R. Maestrejuan in Carnegie Institution of Washington on September 9, 2003. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0601. Science History Institute. Philadelphia. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/1jfqnll.

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The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

8 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads