Gail P. Jarvik was raised in Mount Prospect, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, one of six siblings (with an age-span of seventeen years between the oldest and youngest). Her mother was a housewife who received a college degree in her fifties and her father transitioned from being a television repair man to becoming the youngest fire chief in Illinois. She had an early interest in nature, reading, and math, and had several influential teachers. She matriculated at the University of Iowa, majoring in zoology. An interest in science and medicine led Jarvik to apply for admission to various medical and graduate programs, including the University of Iowa’s Medical Scientist Training program, to which she was accepted.
She began her studies for her medical doctorate at the University of Iowa before James Hanson, the head of pediatric genetics at Iowa, gave her the opportunity to pursue her PhD at the University of Michigan. In the lab of Charles F. Sing at Michigan, Jarvik began to work on fetal hydantoin syndrome but then switched topics before completing her degree. Upon finishing her medical education at Iowa she moved on to train in internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania where she collaborated with Terri Beaty from Johns Hopkins University, on hyperlipidemia. After finishing her training she began a medical genetics fellowship on the genetics of prostate cancer at the University of Washington, Seattle, under Ellen M. Wijsman, and then went on to accept a position at the University of Washington Medical Center.
Throughout the interview Jarvik spends much time talking about her current work, her life outside of the lab, her perspectives on science and its practice in contemporary culture. She discusses her opinions on the public awareness of genetic research, ethical questions in science, the advantages and disadvantages of competition in science, her collaborative research projects, and the importance of being familiar with the history of biomedical science in her research. In addition she reflects on the ways in which the Pew Scholars Program in Biomedical Sciences has affected her work and on the methods that should be used to improve the quality of science in her field.
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