Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Richard I. Dorsky

  • 2009-Jul-15 – 2009-Jul-16

Richard I. Dorsky grew up in Palo Alto, California. His father was a chemist; his mother was a computer programmer. Dorsky always liked to understand how things worked, and his father promoted Dorsky's early interest in science with simple experiments at home and trips to the chemistry lab. Strong associations with Stanford University faculty and their children further encouraged a strong academic leaning. An outstanding biology teacher in high school turned Dorsky's interest in chemistry to a love of biology. Dorsky entered the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in molecular biology; he worked in Mark Davis's lab at Stanford University and did summer lab work with Peter Schultz. During his junior year Dorsky injured his knee while skiing for the ski team; after surgery on his knee, he spent some of his recovery time travelling in Europe. He loved Corey Goodman's developmental neurobiology class and entered Goodman's lab, where he wrote his honors thesis with Alex Kolodkin; after his graduation he spent a further year as a technician in Goodman's lab while he considered graduate schools. For his PhD, Dorsky entered William Harris's lab at University of California, San Diego, where he immediately won a National Science Foundation grant and began working on notch function gene in the retina. He met his future wife and followed her to Sydney, Australia, where he spent six months in David Rapaport's lab. While deciding on a postdoc Dorsky became interested Wnt signaling and zebrafish. He accepted a position at the University of Washington, where he worked in two labs, David Raible's and Randall Moon's. There he researched Wnt signaling and continued writing and publishing papers. He left Washington for an assistant professorship at the University of Utah. At the end of the interview he talks about the community of zebrafish scholars, its friendliness and willingness to share; its rapid growth; and its usefulness as a proxy for understanding human brains. He takes the interviewer on a tour of his facility (6,000 tanks shared by eighteen labs) and describes how the University controls access and training. Dorsky talks about the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant and the annual meetings. He discusses recruiting students and postdocs; his lab management style; his own bench work; his teaching duties; his administrative commitments; collaborations; and more about publishing and journal hierarchy. Dorsky explains how understanding the zebrafish's brain will lead to understanding human neurogenesis. He concludes his interview by describing how he attempts to balance his family life with life in the lab.

Access this interview

By request 1 PDF Transcript File and 4 Audio Recording Files

Fill out a brief form to receive immediate access to these files.

If you have any questions about transcripts, recordings, or usage permissions, contact the Center for Oral History at

PDF — 199 KB