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Oral history interview with Edwin L. Ferguson

  • 1999-Sep-28 – 1999-Sep-29
  • 1999-Oct-01

Edwin L. Ferguson was born and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was an only child and thinks that, therefore, he was more independent and self-reliant than other children in his neighborhood. His neighborhood was filled with large Roman Catholic families, whose children attended the local Catholic school. As Ferguson says, the Catholic school was the public school. Ferguson attended also for a couple of years, but the school was severely overcrowded and the education poor, so his parents transferred him to an Episcopal school, where he soon became an excellent student. When he was in high school his father became seriously ill, apparently with Alzheimer's disease, so Ferguson had to assume adult responsibilities. He decided he wanted to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study computer science. His interest in computer science began to wane, but an introductory course in biology grabbed his interest, and a course in genetics taught by David Botstein caused him to major in biology as well as computer science. After graduation Ferguson spent a year and a half working in computer programming, but he found it increasingly boring. He decided to take an ocean ecology course in a joint program at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and MIT, and from there he entered MIT again, this time as a graduate student in biology. He went into H. Robert Horvitz's lab to work on genetics in C. elegans. From there he went to Columbia University with a postdoc in Martin Chalfie's lab, where he did "a little bit of molecular biology." From there he went to University of California at Berkeley, changing fields from C. elegans to Drosophila. He worked in Kathryn Anderson's lab, studying dorsal-ventral patterning in Drosophila; this had been Anderson's area of study when she was a postdoc in Christiane Nusslein-Volhard's lab at the University of Tubingen, and the work excited Ferguson very much. Also, he was done with worms and wanted to switch to flies. After about five years at Berkeley, he finished some work with which he was heavily involved and applied for jobs at many schools. He had a number of offers, mostly from medical schools, but settled on the assistant professorship at the University of Chicago. He is now an associate professor there, and he continues to work in developmental genetics, winning a number of awards and publishing many articles.

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