Digital Collections

Oral history interview with John Sondek

  • 2006-Mar-27 – 2006-Mar-29

John Sondek grew up in Lewiston, New York, the fourth of five children. His father owned a grocery store, and his mother was a homemaker. Sondek worked hard on his schoolwork and liked all kinds of classes. He particularly remembers his chemistry and biology teachers as being enthusiastic and good. He took his first biochemistry class in high school and became fascinated with DNA manipulation. He also played football in high school.

Sondek's first research experience occurred during college at the University of Rochester, where he worked for Michael Hampsey in Fred Sherman's lab. Becoming more interested in biochemistry, he decided to pursue science as a career, and spent some time in the interview reflecting on the Sherman laboratory and Sondek's own early research experience.

He attended graduate school at Johns Hopkins University, where he rotated into David Shortle's laboratory to work on protein folding. Wanting to work on heterotrimeric proteins, Sondek accepted a postdoctoral fellowship with Paul Sigler at Yale University. He found that Shortle and Sigler had different mentoring styles, both of which influenced his own style of working with students in lab.

After his postdoc, Sondek accepted a position at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He continued his current research in signal transduction systems controlled by heterotrimeric G protein and he collaborated with T. Kendall Harden. During his time at Chapel Hill, Sondek received the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant, which had a large influence on his work.

As the interview concludes, Sondek gives his views on his obligation to provide service to his professional community and to promote the national science agenda. He goes into greater detail about his current research in the structural biology of signal transduction; the wider context of his work; and practical applications of his research. He describes what he likes best about being a principal investigator; the qualities of a good scientist; and the process of writing journal articles. He answers the interviewer's questions about the issue of patents, his in particular; gender issues in science; science and religion; politics and science; the role of the scientist in educating the public about science; and ethical questions in science. The interview ends with a discussion of Sondek's leisure activities; his professional and personal goals; and the difficulty of balancing family life and work life.

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