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Oral history interview with Kuo-Fen Lee

  • 2004-Apr-26 – 2004-Apr-27

Kuo-Fen Lee was raised in Kaohsing, Taiwan where he (the youngest) and his four siblings helped his single mother run a restaurant. Lee had what he considers a normal childhood; in terms of parental expectations, all Lee's mother wanted was for her sons to attend university. Lee and his brothers all tutored other students throughout their childhood and so doing well on the national exams was not a great challenge for Lee. He attended the National Taiwan University and developed an interest in molecular biology after taking a virology course and working in plant virology. Lee then pursued a master's degree in molecular biology form National Yang-Ming Medical College where he researched cell-surface glycoprotein antigens in hepatoma. Wanting to continue his education, he decided to pursue his doctoral degree at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, which served as his first introduction to the experience of American culture. While at Baylor, he chose to research gene regulation using transgenic technology and steroid hormone peptides in Jeffrey M. Rosen's lab. Lee then moved to a postdoctoral position at the Whitehead Institute for Biological Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He worked on crafting a genetic knockout mouse to study neural crest cell migration during development in the Rudolf Jaenisch lab and, while there, he published in Cell, Science, and Nature. After meeting Story C. Landis and Wylie Vale and attending a Gordon Research Conference on hormone action, Lee accepted a position at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, focusing his research on neurobiological development, synapse function, and glial cell function. The interview concludes with a discussion of Lee's interest in comparing the histories of Chinese and Western science, his professional and academic duties, and his family.

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