Michael A. Caudy

Born: April 11, 1952 | Columbus, OH, US

Michael A. Caudy was born in Columbus, Ohio. When he was in high school, he worked as a technician in the veterinary pathology lab at Ohio State University, and later attended university there. He received a degree in English education and taught elementary and junior high school for a number of years while maintaining an interest in science, leading him to enter the biophysics graduate program at Ohio State. After a year, he transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, to David Bentley's lab, to study theoretical biophysics and neurobiology. He then accepted a position at Weill Cornell Medical College, where he works today, researching mammalian and Drosophila genetics. He discusses the college's atmosphere, pressures on medical schools, his research agenda, and his lab. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0429
No. of pages: 109
Minutes: 600

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
8-10 November 1996
Cornell University Medical Center New York, New York

Abstract of Interview

Michael A. Caudy was born and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. His parents divorced when he was two, and for about eight years he lived with his mother and sister; for some of that time his grandparents also lived with them. When he was about ten, his mother married a theoretical physicist. His stepfather, whom he calls a brilliant scientist, had—at least subconsciously—a major influence on Caudy's interest in becoming a scientist. The more immediate moving force was a summer job for Caudy when he was in high school: a neighbor was head of a veterinary pathology lab at Ohio State University, and he hired Caudy to work as a technician. When he entered the Ohio State University, Caudy had been playing rock guitar for years; in college he discovered classical guitar, and then he became interested in building guitars. He also liked to read English literature, so he took longer than usual to complete his undergraduate work, attending school part time, reading, playing and studying music and dance, and doing some science, until he finally settled on an English education major. After college he spent some time teaching in different elementary and junior high schools to learn about alternative methods of teaching. During these years he maintained a serious interest in science, primarily physics and mathematics, until he entered the biophysics graduate program at Ohio State. After a year there he transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, to David Bentley's lab, to study theoretical biophysics and neurobiology, with a focus on developmental neurobiology. After describing his experiences growing up in the early 1970s, Caudy compares and contrasts the environment at Ohio State and Berkeley. He then explains his reasons for accepting a position at Weill Cornell Medical College and describes his lab there. He discusses his research in mammalian and Drosophila genetics; he describes his work on the hairy gene and its binding sites, lamenting the difficulty of finding funding. He analyzes the academic and clinical organization of Weill Cornell Medical College, and the pressures on medical schools in general. He explains his lack of interest in working for private industry. He shares his future research agenda while philosophizing about the need for scientists to have time to ponder larger questions. He explains the specifics of a functional lab, including funding and size, and stresses the need for creativity and innovation within it. Although Caudy experiences pressures in his career he claims those pressures have not detracted from his love of science. He concludes the interview by suggesting policies that might further the cause of scientific discovery. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1974 Ohio State University BA
1985 University of California, Berkeley PhD

Professional Experience

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

1985 to 1989
Postdoctoral Fellow

Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences

1990 to 1997
Assistant Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1984

Einstein Fellowship for Developmental Neurobiology, University of California, Berkeley

1985 to 1987

Postdoctoral fellowship, National Institutes of Health

1990 to 1992

Research award, Mather Foundation

1991 to 1993

Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in Neuroscience

1991 to 1994

Cornell Scholar's Award

1991 to 1995

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Early scientific interest. Working in a lab at Ohio State University as a high school student. Family history of scientists and engineers. Proximity of Ohio State University while growing up. Growing up poor in upper-middle class suburb. High school courses.

College Years
4

Studying English and education. Teaching internships. Resuming science education. Working in a lab as an undergraduate. Coming of Age. Musical influences. Modern and folk dancing. College social life. Luthier apprenticeship.

Graduate Studies
9

Entering the biophysics program at Ohio State University. Transferring to the University of California, Berkeley. Fascination with the history of physics. Interest in developmental neuroscience. Inspiration from David Bentley. Plan to study molecular biology and genetics as a postdoc.

Education Angst
17

Worries about current students' inability to focus. Differences in concerns for science students versus medical students. Lack of job opportunities for graduating students. The effect of the National Institutes of Health review system. Science as a national interest. Grant applications as a hindrance to fulfilling work andteaching obligations. Disciplines other than science requiring more funding. Tenure problems. The question of whether to fund basic or applied research.

Caudy's Lab at Weill Cornell Medical College
45

Influence of NIH funding on administrative decisions. The cell biologydepartment. Difficulties retaining students when lab first opened. Caudy's inability to obtain funding to extend research on Drosophila into mammalian systems. Use of biochemistry and genetics in his lab. Work on the hairy gene and its binding sites. Howard Hughes Medical Investigator award.

Philosophical Issues of Modern Science
47

Creativity in science. The need for time to ponder larger scientific questions. The importance of intuitive thinking in physics and mathematics. Characteristics of good molecular geneticists. Self-characterization as a "small-science" person. How to produce innovative science. Impact of science on personal life. Selectionprocess. Solutions to current scientific problems. Impact of government action. The funding crisis facing the current generation of scientists. Dangers facing civilization. Publishing too many papers while neglecting cutting-edge science.

Index
107

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan