Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Robert P. Goldstein

  • 2008-Apr-24 – 2008-Apr-25

Robert P. Goldstein (Bob Goldstein) grew up in Massapequa, New York, the second of three boys. His father was both a lineman for the telephone company and a bus driver. His mother was a nurse. He attended public schools until high school, when he went to a Roman Catholic school. He did well in his classes, even obtaining a year's worth of college credit, but he had not yet displayed a special interest in science. He held jobs as a hotdog seller and a stockboy when he was in high school. He decided to enroll in Union College, originally thinking he would go to medical school. He liked Union and college life; he rediscovered his childhood guitar and his interest in music, and learned to play the carillon there. For a while he thought about a philosophy major, but a class in symbolic logic, taught by Jan Ludwig, and a class in embryology, taught by Ray Rappaport, persuaded him to use his biology major in research. While working in Michael Frohlich's lab, Goldstein was also manager of the campus radio station and worked in campus security for spending money. When Goldstein decided that he wanted to study embryology, Ray Rappaport recommended Gary Freeman's lab at the University of Texas for graduate school. Prior to matriculating at Texas, Goldstein spent the summer with Freeman at Friday Harbor Laboratories in Seattle, Washington, conducting research during the day and camping out at night—he continued this tradition at Friday Harbor in subsequent summers. His first two years in Texas produced nothing substantive, and so he switched from ascidian and snail embryos to C. elegans and began to see results. His data differed from the accepted scientific findings, and so his first talk caused him some anxiety. Goldstein went on to win the year's Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation award. For a postdoc Goldstein chose John White's lab at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England. No sooner had Goldstein arrived than White left for Wisconsin, but he left behind marvelous equipment, including the original confocal microscope. Goldstein also shared a 4D microscope with Steven Hird, who had independently developed a similar project on axis specification in C. elegans. His love of scientific discovery and enjoyment of his postdoc years led Goldstein to another postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, in David Weisblat's lab. Working on evolution of development, Goldstein and his collection of snails, worms and leeches met his future wife in a lab across the hall. They married after their postdocs, spent their honeymoon in Hawaii, and set off on a road trip to North Carolina, where Goldstein had accepted an assistant professorship. At the end of the interview Goldstein talks about his parents; his brothers' careers; his first postdoc, Jean-Claude Labbé; and music in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He describes his lab set-up and management (including a story about gluing his sock to his foot) and the way his lab writes papers. He explains his administrative responsibilities and his need for independence in his work, and the role that the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award played in his research. He discusses his grants, and he compares those from the National Institutes of Health with those of the National Science Foundation; he then goes on to compare funding in the United States with funding in England. He gives his definition of biomedicine, his opinion about the role of politics in science, and his praise of cultural diversity at the University of North Carolina.

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