Andrew C. Chan

Born: October 11, 1959 | Hong Kong, CN

Andrew C. Chan was born in Hong Kong, but his family emigrated to the United States when he was young. Encouraged by two teachers, he attended Northwestern University, entering with sophomore standing at age sixteen. He attributes his interest in research to his professor, Joseph Lambert, but also wanted to be a doctor, so he applied to the MD/PhD program at Washington University School of Medicine, where he did research on protein processing in John Atkinson's laboratory. After finishing his fellowship he moved up the ranks to attending physician at University of California, San Francisco. Today he is principal investigator at Washington University School of Medicine and attending physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Chan discusses parental expectations, teaching, lab management, research, and more. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0455
No. of pages: 119
Minutes: 499

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
17, 18, and 20 April 2000
Washington University School of Medicine St. Louis, Missouri

Abstract of Interview

Andrew C. Chan was born in Hong Kong, the eldest of four children. His father was an engineer, his mother a teacher. When Chan was seven the family emigrated to the United States. His father was able to continue his career as an engineer, but his mother could not teach in the United States. She eventually attended college and became a civil engineer. Though he was young when he left Hong Kong, Chan's studies in Hong Kong were heavily slanted toward sciences and mathematics, but he also had a good beginning in English. He and his siblings did well in their public schools, attending Irvine High School, and all are professionals, Chan and his sisters in science-related fields, and their brother in law. Extra classes at University of California, Irvine; playing violin and accordion; debate; and chess kept Chan too busy to indulge in a very active social life. Chan dates the genesis of his interest in science to his high-school chemistry teacher. Wanting a smaller incoming chemistry class than would be found in the University of California schools and prompted by two high-school teachers who were alumni, he decided to attend Northwestern University, which he entered with sophomore standing at the age of sixteen. Thinking he would not be ready for medical school at the age of nineteen, when he would be graduated, he decided on a four-year program that included research and granted a master's degree as well as a bachelor's. His desire to become a researcher he attributes to his professor, Joseph Lambert, but for some years he had also wanted to be a doctor. As a result, he applied to the MD/PhD program at Washington University School of Medicine, a program that he considers excellent. Youthful allergies led him to immunology; working with John Atkinson and Benjamin Schwartz and his mother's diagnosis with lupus erythematosis led him to rheumatology, so that he did his research on protein processing in John Atkinson's laboratory. He decided to specialize in internal medicine and enjoyed his internship and residency at Barnes Jewish Hospital. After a one-year clinical fellowship at University of California, San Francisco, he began work in Arthur Weiss's laboratory, where he specialized in rheumatology. Chan then discusses such wide-ranging subjects as parental expectations; his concern over the partial loss of his Chinese heritage; the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing an MD/PhD program; an example of clinical expertise fostering research progress; his teaching duties; how college students today differ from those of his own day; and patents in science. Chan then returns to his own career. After finishing his fellowship he became a research fellow, then an assistant adjunct professor, and then an attending physician at University of California, San Francisco. From there he was granted a Howard Hughes Assistant—later Associate—Investigator award and accepted two positions, principal investigator at Washington University School of Medicine, and attending physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He continues in these positions today. Chan then discusses his lab setup and management; the job market for scientists; funding in general and specifically for him; grant writing; racial and ethnic makeup of Washington University; publishing articles; administrative duties; the physician-scientist program; travel commitments; patient care; clinical literature; advantages and disadvantages of technology; creativity in science; and competition and collaboration. Chan finishes his interview by explaining his current research on the regulation of the signaling mechanism of the T-cell antigen receptor; the possible applications of his research; and his future research goals. He explains how he tries to balance his work life with his family life with his wife, a gastroenterologist whom he met at Washington University, and his two children. He concludes with his appreciation for his family. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1980 Northwestern University BA/MS Chemistry
1986 Washington University School of Medicine MD/PhD

Professional Experience

Washington University School of Medicine

1986 to 1989
Intern and Resident, Department of Internal Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital
1994 to 2001
Attending Physician, Department of Internal Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hosptial
1994 to 1998
Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine
1994 to 1999
Assistant Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
1998 to 2001
Associate Professor
2000 to 2001
Associate Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

University of California, San Francisco

1989 to 1990
Clinical Fellow, Division of Rheumatology
1990 to 1993
Research Fellow
1992 to 1993
Assistant Adjunct Professor, Division of Rheumatology
1992 to 1993
Attending Physician, Department of Medicine, Long-Moffitt Hospital

Honors

Year(s) Award
1995 to 1999

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1999

American College of Rheumatology Investigator

1999

American Society for Clinical Investigation

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Mother's teaching and career. Chinese education in mathematics and science. Memories of Hong Kong. English and Chinese language skills. Growing up in Irvine, California. Early schooling. Interest in music and other extra-curricular activities. Social life. Perception of high school.

College and Medical School
16

The relationship between science and religion. Interest in science. Northwestern University. Adjusting to life in Evanston, Illinois. Interest in economics and History. Decision to become a doctor. Joseph Lambert. MD/PhD program at Washington University School of Medicine. Research in the John P. Atkinson laboratory on protein processing. Being both a good doctor and a good research scientist. Internship and residency at Barnes Jewish Hospital.

Reflections on Science and Medical Practice
37

Parental expectations. The advantages and disadvantages of pursuing an MD/PhD program. An example of clinical expertise fostering research progress. Mary F. Chan. Teaching duties. Patents in science. Gender issues. Balancing family and career responsibilities. Funding. Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Grant writing. Philanthropic and government research grants. PewScholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Medical Specialization and Research
69

Rheumatology in the Arthur Weiss laboratory at University of California, San Francisco. Responsibilities as a clinical fellow. Accepts a position at Washington University School of Medicine. Meaning of tenure. Article-writing. Physician-scientist program. Four Schools Program. Attending patients. Staying current in the clinical literature. Research on the regulation of the signalingmechanism of the T cell antigen receptor.

Final Thoughts
96

Possible applications of his research findings. Proteomics. Advantages and disadvantages of technology. Creativity and the origin of ideas. Serendipity in science. Competition. Future plans. What he likes and dislikes about being a principal investigator.

Index
117

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen