Maurice J. Kernan was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, the eldest of four siblings. His father worked for an insurance company; his mother was a homemaker. A love of the outdoors and interest in nature was nurtured at a nearby area of salt marsh and sand dunes, North Bull Island in Dublin Bay, where he explored and watched birds; his science projects in school were nature-based and carried out there. An avid reader, his formal education began in the local public school, but from the age of eight he attended a Jesuit day school, Belvedere College.
He matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin to study biology and developed an interest in genetics, studying in a department with ties to genetic research in the United States. During the summer after his third year of college, he traveled to the US and trained with a Trinity alumnus, Mittur Jagadish, in the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University. While at Cornell, he also heard a lecture from Allan C. Spradling, who, with Gerald M. Rubin, had just figured out how to make transgenic Drosophila using transposable P elements. After earning his degree, he moved to the United States for graduate research in genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, joining Barry Ganetzky's Drosophila laboratory; his doctoral research on a mutation affecting nerve cell activity led to a pair of Cell papers in the early 1990s. Kernan undertook postdoctoral work in Drosophila with Charles S. Zuker at the University of California, San Diego, where he began a genetic analysis of the sense of touch; from there he accepted a faculty position at SUNY Stony Brook where this work continued.
At the end of the interview, Kernan discusses setting up his laboratory and research program and learning to be a laboratory manager. He also discusses funding, teaching, balancing family life with his career, competition and collaboration, the nation's scientific agenda, and the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.