Michael C. Carroll

Born: August 8, 1945 | Birmingham, AL, US

Michael C. Carroll began his career in banking, but was soon bored by the work. He entered Southern Methodist University as an undergraduate, continuing there for a master’s degree and becoming interested in immunology. He obtained his PhD from University of Texas Health Science Center, under advisor Donald Capra, where he began his interest in Complement C4. He moved to University of Oxford to work with Rodney Porter as a post-doctoral fellow where he cloned C4. He then accepted an appointment in Boston Children’s Hospital and is now a professor in Harvard Medical School.

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0737
No. of pages: 32
Minutes: 140

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray and Richard Sawyer
4 March 1990
Coral Gables, Florida

Abstract of Interview

Michael C. Carroll was born in Birmingham, Alabama, one of four children. His father worked as an engineer after serving in the United States Air Force, and his mother was a housewife and secretary. The family moved to Texas for Carroll’s father’s job when Carroll was about ten. Carroll obtained a business degree from Texas Tech University and moved to Dallas, Texas, to work in banking.

Becoming bored with banking, Carroll decided to try science. He entered Southern Methodist University as an undergraduate, continuing there for a master’s degree and becoming interested in immunology. He obtained his PhD from University of Texas Health Science Center, where his advisor was Donald Capra; and there he began his interest in Complement C4. He moved to University of Oxford to work with Rodney Porter as a post-doctoral fellow where he cloned C4. He then accepted an appointment in Boston Children’s Hospital and is now a professor in Harvard Medical School.

Carroll talks about funding and the ways in which funding drives areas of research, using as an example his own concentration on work in the less fashionable biology of complement, rather than pursuing MHC. He compares British and American science, specifically Harvard’s and Oxford’s. He explains the importance to him of things other than science, primarily family; and he describes the intersection of his science and religion.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1986 Texas Tech University BBA Accounting
1975 Southern Methodist University MS Biology
1980 University of Texas Health Science Center PhD Immunology

Professional Experience

University of Oxford

1980 to 1985
Research Fellow, Department of Biochemistry

Boston Children's Hospital

1985 to 1988
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics and Biological Chemistry
1988 to 1999
Associate Professor, Biology
1999 to 2017
Professor of Pediatrics and Senior Investigator, Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine

Honors

Year(s) Award
1980 to 1983

Postdoctoral Fellow, American Arthritis Foundation

1983 to 1986

Investigator, American Arthritis Foundation

1986 to 1990

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences Award

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Born in Birmingham, Alabama; grew up mainly in Texas. Second of four children. Father was an engineer after serving in US Air Force; mother housewife, then secretary. Family background. Undergraduate years at Texas Tech University. Liked golf, social life. Began in electrical engineering, switched to business. Moved to Dallas, Texas, to work in bank. Secure but bored.

Discovering Science
5

Entered Southern Methodist University (SMU) as undergraduate, taking only science classes. Working in parasitology lab led to interest in immunology. Stayed at SMU for master’s degree, but had project at University of Texas Health Science Center, obtained PhD in immunology there. In first graduate class; students in demand for lab work. Donald Capra his advisor. Interest in protein structure, especially major histocompatibility complex (MHC). First publication with Rodney Porter, who later became postdoc advisor. Subsequently moved to European lab.

Postdoctoral Work
13

Arthritis Foundation allowed foreign postdocs; pushed by Horace Judson to try England and molecular biology. Walter Bodmer and cloning complement genes. Difficulties of living in England. Porter’s mentoring, management style, personality. Two years in George Brownlee’s lab at University of Oxford. Funding. Polymorphism and disease susceptibility. Cloning C4; importance to immune response. Wanting to return to United States; wanting family and better pay.

Boston Children's Hospital
22

Accepts assistant professorship of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital with joint appointment in pediatrics department of Harvard Medical School. More about funding:  National Institutes of Health, Pew Charitable Trusts, and Multiple Sclerosis Society. His lab composition. Typical day in his lab. French wife and two children. Leaving bench for more administrative responsibilities. “Harvard style”:  expand or drop out. British science vs. American; Oxford’s vs. Harvard’s. Funding agencies’ emphasis on novel or fashionable science. Discarded mapping molecular biology in favor of biology of complement because of funding and Harvard environment. Keeping archive of his work. Religion.

Index
31

About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

Richard Sawyer