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Oral history interview with Daniel E. Gottschling

  • 1997-Dec-08 – 1997-Dec-10

Daniel E. Gottschling and his younger sister were born in Gary, Indiana. Their father was first an engineer and then in middle management at Bell Systems; their mother was an architect until she had children. Daniel attended a Lutheran school until the family moved when Daniel was in junior high school. Woods near his house provided free-time entertainment; there he began his interest in science by collecting spiders. Both sets of grandparents lived nearby, and the families were very close. Daniel spent a great deal of time with adults, listening to their stories and absorbing their experiences (and incidentally learning to shoot pool). When Daniel was beginning junior high school the family moved to nearby Portage, Indiana, where Daniel began public school. Although he did not like school and was often sick, he did well, especially in science and mathematics. In eighth grade he had a wonderful biology teacher who knew about spiders, but otherwise Daniel was academically uninspired. He took up violin, began singing in a choir, and acted in all his high school plays. He and two friends formed a rock band that did very well, even playing at Earl of Old Town in Chicago, backup for Steve Goodman. Not sure where to go to college, he visited a friend at Augustana College and decided to go there. He had to drop out of his rock band, but at college he immediately joined a choir, which practiced every day and travelled all over the world, and formed another rock band, all while studying and engaging in philosophical and historical discussions with faculty and fellow students. His chemistry and mathematics classes were excellent, and he chose chemistry as his major. He did not think much about where this was all leading until near the end of college, when he decided he did not want to be a doctor and might want to be a scientist. He was accepted into graduate school at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He helped new faculty member Thomas Cech set up his lab and set to work there. When Gottschling blew up the microwave in the lab and when his experiments were not working out well, he was discouraged and accepted a one-year job at Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison, Colorado, where he taught introductory chemistry. He liked teaching, but found that he liked the bench better and went back to Cech's lab to work on ciliate chromosomes, finally focusing on telomeres. When he saw Seattle he loved it and accepted a postdoc at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, working on ciliate telomeres in Virginia Zakian's yeast genetics lab. Eventually Gottschling accepted an assistant and then an associate professorship at the University of Chicago, leaving behind his ciliates and moving into yeast and epigenetics. After seven years he opted for less teaching and more bench work at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where he continues his research on yeast, believing that if one starts at one end and burrows through to the other end of something he can learn how that something works. Gottschling has won the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences Award and the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology. He still loves music, though he has less time for it than he would like. He teaches in the Science-Education-Partnership (SEP), run by Barbara Berg. And, of course, he continues his beloved benchwork.

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