Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Erin Schuman

  • 2000-Apr-12
  • 2000-Apr-19
  • 2000-Apr-26
  • 2000-May-17

Erin M. Schuman was born in San Gabriel, California, though spent most of her childhood in Huntington Beach, the oldest of three siblings; her mother was a teacher at a Catholic school. She was a "serial hobbyist" with interests in painting, softball, dancing, and reading and she attended Catholic schools from the time she was a teenager. Schuman matriculated at the University of Southern California (USC), initially interested in pursuing law and deciding to major in political science, but ultimately switching her major to psychology. She worked regularly as an undergraduate, including stints as a waitress, though found the time to complete an honors thesis with Laura Baker studying memory in twins. She decided to go to graduate school for her doctoral studies, having to choose between the University of California, Irvine and Princeton University, ultimately selecting the latter because of Joseph Farley's work on learning in memory using invertebrate systems. She followed Farley to Indiana University when he left, though returned to Princeton to complete her thesis in Gregory A. Clark's lab. She then accepted a postdoctoral position at the Daniel V. Madison laboratory at Stanford University studying long-term neuronal potentiation, culminating in a series of papers on synaptic transmission (two of which appeared in Science). From there Schuman accepted a position at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), studying decentralized production of proteins at the dendrites and, more recently, synaptic feedback mechanisms and cadherins, and having the opportunity to collaborate with Masatoshi Takeichi and Norman A. Davidson. The interview concludes with Schuman discussing the advantages and disadvantages of competition in science; the issue of accountability to those who fund scientific research; sexism; the article-writing process; co-teaching courses with her husband, Gilles Jean Laurent; and balancing family and career.

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