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Oral history interview with Caroline Kisker

  • 2008-Jun-18 – 2008-Jun-19
Photograph of Caroline Kisker

Caroline F. Kisker grew up in West Berlin, West Germany, where she attended the John F. Kennedy German-American grammar school. After completing her Abitur, Kisker planned to study medicine, but due to the complicated university placement lottery system Kisker was not able to matriculate at a university. In the interim, while working as a medical apprentice, she decided to pursue biochemistry at the Freie Universität in Berlin. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kisker witnessed an influx of East German students to West Berlin and the universities there. She joined the large laboratory of Wolfram Saenger and throughout the course of her Diplom and PhD , Kisker had the opportunity to conduct laboratory work in Zürich, Switzerland, and Frankfurt, Germany, with Nobel Laureate Hartmut Michel. Her doctoral thesis centered on the determination of medically relevant tetracycline repressor protein, the results of which she published in Science. While working in the Saenger laboratory, Kisker met her husband Hermann Schindelin. After completing their doctorates, they both pursued postdoctoral research in Douglas C. Rees's laboratory at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). At Caltech, Kisker solved the sulfite oxidase structure and published it in Cell. At the end of her time as a postdoctoral fellow, Kisker accepted a position as a faculty member at State University of New York, Stony Brook. In 2000 Kisker received the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award and in 2006 she moved to the Rudolf Virchow Center at the University of Würzburg, in Germany. She continues her research on structure-based drug design and DNA repair through the tools of structural biology. Throughout her oral history Kisker discusses the differences between the German and American educational and scientific systems and many of the challenges associated with being a woman in science, especially having to balance work with family life during the transition from Stony Brook back to Germany. Kisker also talks about the ways in which structural biology has changed throughout her career in response to new technologies and the ways in which funding affects her research and research choices.

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