Edwin L. Ferguson

Born: October 22, 1953 | Philadelphia, PA, US

Edwin L. Ferguson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his initial interest in computer science began to wane, and a course in genetics pushed him towards biology. He spent some time working in computer programming, but found it boring, and returned to graduate school at MIT to study biology. He went into H. Robert Horvitz's lab to work on genetics in C. Elegans. From there he went to Columbia University with a postdoc in Martin Chalfie's lab, then to University of California, Berkeley and worked in Kathryn Anderson's lab, studying dorsal-ventral patterning in Drosophila. Next, he took an assistant professorship at the University of Chicago. He continues to work in developmental genetics.

Access This Interview

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

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0441
No. of pages: 83
Minutes: 334

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
28-29 September and 1 October 1999
The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Abstract of Interview

Edwin L. Ferguson was born and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was an only child and thinks that, therefore, he was more independent and self-reliant than other children in his neighborhood. His neighborhood was filled with large Roman Catholic families, whose children attended the local Catholic school. As Ferguson says, the Catholic school was the public school. Ferguson attended also for a couple of years, but the school was severely overcrowded and the education poor, so his parents transferred him to an Episcopal school, where he soon became an excellent student. When he was in high school his father became seriously ill, apparently with Alzheimer's disease, so Ferguson had to assume adult responsibilities. He decided he wanted to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study computer science. His interest in computer science began to wane, but an introductory course in biology grabbed his interest, and a course in genetics taught by David Botstein caused him to major in biology as well as computer science. After graduation Ferguson spent a year and a half working in computer programming, but he found it increasingly boring. He decided to take an ocean ecology course in a joint program at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and MIT, and from there he entered MIT again, this time as a graduate student in biology. He went into H. Robert Horvitz's lab to work on genetics in C. elegans. From there he went to Columbia University with a postdoc in Martin Chalfie's lab, where he did "a little bit of molecular biology." From there he went to University of California at Berkeley, changing fields from C. elegans to Drosophila. He worked in Kathryn Anderson's lab, studying dorsal-ventral patterning in Drosophila; this had been Anderson's area of study when she was a postdoc in Christiane Nusslein-Volhard's lab at the University of Tubingen, and the work excited Ferguson very much. Also, he was done with worms and wanted to switch to flies. After about five years at Berkeley, he finished some work with which he was heavily involved and applied for jobs at many schools. He had a number of offers, mostly from medical schools, but settled on the assistant professorship at the University of Chicago. He is now an associate professor there, and he continues to work in developmental genetics, winning a number of awards and publishing many articles.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1976 Massachusetts Institute of Technology BA
1985 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD

Professional Experience

Columbia University

1986 to 1987
Postdoctoral Fellow

University of California, Berkeley

1987 to 1992
Postdoctoral Fellow

University of Chicago

1992 to 1999
Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, Assistant Professor
1999
Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, Associate Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1987 to 1990

Helen Hay Whitney Foundation

1993 to 1997

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Ferguson's schooling at Catholic and Episcopal schools. Separation between his school life and family life. Religious influences. Influential teachers. Aptitude for mathematics.

Undergraduate Years
13

Choosing a college. Coursework at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Evolution of his interest in biology. Combining computer science and biology. Working as a computer programmer after graduation.

Graduate School
22

Enters a joint ocean ecology program at MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Briefly studies Fundulus heterpclitus and cold core rings. Joins the H. Robert Horvitz lab. His experiences on a research cruise in the Gulf Stream. Ferguson's difficulties in graduate school. Horvitz's trailblazing work on post embryonic cell lineage in C. elegans. Ferguson's graduate research on celllineage in C. elegans.

Postdoctoral Years
32

Accepts short postdoc (for "play") at Columbia. Moves to Kathryn Anderson's lab to work on TGFß (transforming growth factor beta).

Later Years
43

Accepts faculty position at University of Chicago. Enjoys teaching undergraduates. Teaching method and philosophy. Tenure. Working on dorsal-ventral patterning in Drosophila embryo. Collaboration with Edward De Robertis on patterning systems in frogs and flies. Funding and paper writing. Applicability of research. His present research on the patterning of the dorsal-ventral axis in C. elegans.

Index
81

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen