Michael Farrar

Born: May 5, 1964 | Washington, DC, US

Michael A. Farrar was born in Washington, DC. He attended University of Wisconsin, intending to major in physics and mathematics, but found biology better taught and more interesting; during the summers he worked in a chicken lab trying to manipulate genes. During his last semester he was diagnosed with Addison's disease. At Washington University in St. Louis he worked on interferon receptors in Robert Schreiber's lab; he won the Olin Medical Scientist Foundation Fellowship. He then took a postdoc with Roger Perlmutter, later following him to Merck and Company. There Farrar was able to design his own lab, to interview and recommend for hire the lab staff and technicians, and to buy whatever equipment he wanted. He now works at the University of Minnesota.

Access This Interview

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

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0651
No. of pages: 111
Minutes: 300

Interview Sessions

David J. Caruso
13-14 August 2008
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Abstract of Interview

Michael A. Farrar was born in Washington, DC, where his father was a chemist for the Bureau of Standards. Farrar's mother, a housewife, was German, and Farrar and his younger brother and sister grew up bilingual. As his father changed jobs, the family moved near to New York City, back to the DC area, and finally to Madison, Wisconsin, where the senior Farrar joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin. By that time Farrar had begun high school. He liked to read and was interested in physics and astronomy, but not so much in biology. He crewed for his high school team and continued rowing throughout college. Thinking of becoming an astrophysicist, Farrar entered the University of Wisconsin, intending to major in physics and mathematics. At the end of his junior year he attended some lectures given by Oliver Smithies and found them fascinating. In general, he found biology better taught and more interesting at the university, and so he changed his major to biology; during the summers he worked in a chicken lab trying to manipulate genes. Having started the biology program later in his undergraduate career, he decided to stay for a fifth year to complete a senior thesis. During his last semester he was diagnosed with Addison's disease. Farrar decided to attend Washington University in St. Louis for a PhD in immunology. There he began work on interferon receptors in Robert Schreiber's lab; he won the Olin Medical Scientist Foundation Fellowship. He also took up bicycle racing. Taking advice from Schreiber and a number of others, Farrar accepted a postdoc at the University of Washington, working in Roger Perlmutter's lab on Ras signaling and B-cells, as well as developing a novel, chemical-induced dimerization system. He enjoyed new outdoor activities in Seattle, Washington, and continued biking as well. After Farrar had been in Seattle for about four years, Perlmutter moved to Merck and Company, taking most of his lab, including Farrar, with him. There Farrar was able to design his own lab, to interview and recommend for hire the lab staff and technicians, and to buy whatever equipment he wanted. He learned a great deal about setting up and managing a lab from this experience. He was able to continue his previous work there too, but he had to find new athletic activities, this time rock climbing and ballroom dancing. He also met his future wife, a medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. When it was time to look for a job Farrar had an offer from the University of Minnesota, and his wife was able to transfer her residency. At the end of the interview Farrar discusses his continuing work on STAT; the politics of publishing; ethics in science; the increase in administrative duties, with its corresponding decrease in time for bench work; grants in general; the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award in particular (and its annual meetings); recruiting students and getting his lab going; and patents. He describes how he tries to balance work life with spending time with his two children and his wife. He concludes his interview by discussing his newest work and its implications for human leukemia.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1987 University of Wisconsin, Madison BS Molecular Biology
1993 Washington University School of Medicine PhD Immunology

Professional Experience

University of Washington

1993 to 1997
Postdoctorate, Immunology under Roger M. Perlmutter

Merck Research Laboratories

1997 to 2000
Postdoctorate, Immunology under Roger M. Perlmutter

University of Minnesota

2000 to 2006
Assistant Professor, Center for Immunology, The Cancer Center, and Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology
2006
Associate Professor, Center for Immunology, The Cancer Center, and Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1982 to 1983

Kemper K. Knapp Scholarship

1986

Phi Beta Kappa

1992 to 1993

Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Medical Scientist Fellowship

1995 to 1997

Rudolf Montgelas Cancer Research Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship

2002 to 2006

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

2004 to 2008

Cancer Research Institute Investigator Award

2006

AAI Junior Faculty Travel Award

2007 to 2012

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Scholar Award

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

First years in Washington, DC, area; family background; several moves ending in Madison, Wisconsin. Bilingual childhood. Early interests and activities. Summers in Germany. School. Interests in physics and astronomy.

College Years
13

Matriculates into University of Wisconsin. Continues rowing career into national championship. Knapp Scholarship. Began as mathematics and physics major; switched near end to biology. Immunology class with Oliver Smithies. Working in chicken lab with friend. Addison's disease.

Graduate School Years
25

Decided on Washington University in St. Louis. Worked on interferon receptors in Robert Schreiber's lab. Taking up bicycle racing. Olin Fellowship. Writing papers. Mentoring style of Schreiber. Life in the lab.

Postgraduate Years
49

Enters Roger Perlmutter's lab at University of Washington in Seattle,Washington. Works on regulation of lymphocyte development by STAT5. Outdoor activities. Perlmutter's management and mentoring style. Pressure to publish. Raf/Ras/MEK paper in Nature.

Merck and Company Years
60

Perlmutter takes most of lab to Rahway, New Jersey, to work at Merck and Company. Independence of lab. Designing his own lab. Hiring staff. Rock climbing and ballroom dancing. Meets future wife. Job hunting.

Faculty Years
69

Accepted position of assistant professor at University of Minnesota. Last months at Merck. Waiting for wife's residency transfer to Minnesota. Using experience from Merck to set up his own lab. A competitor becomes an ethics lesson. Politics of publishing. Less time in the lab; more administrative duties. Grants. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant and annual meetings. Comparing students now with students of his generation. Patents. Balancing life in the lab with life at home with physician wife and two children. Latest research and implications for leukemia.

Index
107

About the Interviewer

David J. Caruso

David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and editor for the Oral History Review. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds an annual training institute that focuses on conducting interviews with scientists and engineers, he consults on various oral history projects, like at the San Diego Technology Archives, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.  His current research interests are the discipline formation of biomedical science in 20th-century America and the organizational structures that have contributed to such formation.