Joshua M. Kaplan was born in 1960 in Boston, Massachusetts, the youngest of three siblings. His father was an academic physician specializing in hematology, and his mother was a social worker. Raised in a traditionally academic family, Kaplan and his siblings were expected to perform well in school and to pursue higher education. In high school Kaplan began his first research experience working under one of his father's colleagues, studying in vitro red blood cell development. From this point on he was inclined to study science and was interested in laboratory research. Kaplan attended Yale University, where he declared a major in chemistry but would later switch to biochemistry, working in Charles A. Janeway's immunology lab. He also met his wife-to-be, Jennifer S. Haas, there. Kaplan then matriculated into the University of California, San Francisco Medical School, where after his first year of medical training he decided to switch into a doctorate program. Kaplan did his research on cancer-associated src protein with J. Michael Bishop and Harold E. Varmus; he earned his PhD in 1988. He then pursued his research with a postdoctoral fellowship in Dr. H. Robert Horvitz's lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He had a hard time adjusting to the very different environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he credits his time spent there as some of his most difficult yet instructive years. In 1997 Kaplan was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard University. In 1997 he left Harvard University and was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Berkeley. His current research focuses on mapping signal transduction in the simple nervous system of C. elegans, in an effort to understand the workings of more complex nervous systems. Throughout his oral history Kaplan stresses the difficulty that academic researchers can face when trying to balance family and career, and the importance of putting family first. He has received many awards and honors including the Medical Scientist Training Program, the University of California Chancellor's Fellowship, and a Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant, which he discusses in the oral history.
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