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Oral history interview with Matthew K. Waldor

  • 2004-Jan-26
  • 2004-Jan-28

Matthew K. Waldor grew up in the suburbs of Newark, New Jersey, the middle of three children. Waldor's father spent much time in the American military—in active and reserve duty, eventually retiring at the rank of major general—though mostly worked at an insurance agency he founded; his mother was a homemaker. Waldor spent much of his youth interested in and committed to learning, as well as partaking in the normal activities of childhood: reading, piano lessons, and playing in the woods near his home. His early interests were in the arts and humanities, though he was not entirely certain about his career path. He attended Yale University and spent several years intensively committed to his schoolwork before deciding to take a semester off to travel to Spain, where he taught English and planned to write a novel (though never did). He returned to Yale, majoring in philosophy and biology, and decided to pursue medicine for his profession. Before starting at Stanford University Medical School, Waldor had what he considered his first real research experience at Woods Hole Science Center working on neural systems in the leech nervous system. His interest in scientific research piqued, Waldor sought out research while in medical school and ended up in Larry Steinman's laboratory studying autoimmunity in the nervous system, specifically developing mouse models. Although he was accepted to Stanford's MD/PhD program, Waldor declined and continued to conduct research, and then obtain his PhD independently, while at Stanford; he also had the fortune to learn how to think about and do science from Leonore A. Herzenberg. After becoming interested in infectious diseases during a class of Stanley Falkow's at Stanford and after his residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, Waldor began a clinical fellowship in infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and then a postdoctoral fellowship in John J. Mekalanos's laboratory at Harvard Medical School, researching a new strain of epidemic cholera. From there he accepted a position at Tufts University, conducting research in microbial genetics and infectious diseases studying phage replication, regulation, and antibiotic resistance. Near the end of the interview Waldor discusses the requirements of scientific practice and the ways in which he balances his career with his family life; his professional goals; his process for writing journal articles; and a typical workday. The interview ends with reflections on the privatization of scientific research; gender and ethnic issues in science; and the role of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant in his laboratory.

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