Robert P. Goldstein

Born: October 2, 1967 | Oceanside, NY, US

Robert P. Goldstein (Bob Goldstein) grew up in Massapequa, New York, the second of three boys. He attended public schools until high school, when he went to a Roman Catholic school. He did well in his classes, had not yet displayed a special interest in science. Goldstein enrolled in Union College. When he decided that he wanted to study embryology, Ray Rappaport recommended Gary Freeman's lab at the University of Texas for graduate school. Goldstein's first two years in Texas produced nothing substantive, and he switched from ascidian and snail embryos to C. elegans and began to see results. He chose to postdoc in John White's lab at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England. No sooner had Goldstein arrived than White left for Wisconsin, but he left behind marvelous equipment, including the original confocal microscope. Goldstein also shared a 4D microscope with Steven Hird, who had independently developed a similar project on axis specification in C. elegans. His love of scientific discovery and enjoyment of his postdoc years led Goldstein to another postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, in David Weisblat's lab.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0417
No. of pages: 108
Minutes: 327

Interview Sessions

David C. Brock
24-25 April 2008
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Abstract of Interview

Robert P. Goldstein (Bob Goldstein)grew up in Massapequa, New York, the second of three boys. His father was both a lineman for the telephone company and a bus driver. His mother was a nurse. He attended public schools until high school, when he went to a Roman Catholic school. He did well in his classes, even obtaining a year's worth of college credit, but he had not yet displayed a special interest in science. He held jobs as a hotdog seller and a stockboy when he was in high school. He decided to enroll in Union College, originally thinking he would go to medical school. He liked Union and college life; he rediscovered his childhood guitar and his interest in music, and learned to play the carillon there. For a while he thought about a philosophy major, but a class in symbolic logic, taught by Jan Ludwig, and a class in embryology, taught by Ray Rappaport, persuaded him to use his biology major in research. While working in Michael Frohlich's lab, Goldstein was also manager of the campus radio station and worked in campus security for spending money. When Goldstein decided that he wanted to study embryology, Ray Rappaport recommended Gary Freeman's lab at the University of Texas for graduate school. Prior to matriculating at Texas, Goldstein spent the summer with Freeman at Friday Harbor Laboratories in Seattle, Washington, conducting research during the day and camping out at night—he continued this tradition at Friday Harbor in subsequent summers. His first two years in Texas produced nothing substantive, and so he switched from ascidian and snail embryos to C. elegans and began to see results. His data differed from the accepted scientific findings, and so his first talk caused him some anxiety. Goldstein went on to win the year's Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation award. For a postdoc Goldstein chose John White's lab at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England. No sooner had Goldstein arrived than White left for Wisconsin, but he left behind marvelous equipment, including the original confocal microscope. Goldstein also shared a 4D microscope with Steven Hird, who had independently developed a similar project on axis specification in C. elegans. His love of scientific discovery and enjoyment of his postdoc years led Goldstein to another postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, in David Weisblat's lab. Working on evolution of development, Goldstein and his collection of snails, worms and leeches met his future wife in a lab across the hall. They married after their postdocs, spent their honeymoon in Hawaii, and set off on a road trip to North Carolina, where Goldstein had accepted an assistant professorship. At the end of the interview Goldstein talks about his parents; his brothers' careers; his first postdoc, Jean-Claude Labbé; and music in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He describes his lab set-up and management (including a story about gluing his sock to his foot) and the way his lab writes papers. He explains his administrative responsibilities and his need for independence in his work, and the role that the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award played in his research. He discusses his grants, and he compares those from the National Institutes of Health with those of the National Science Foundation; he then goes on to compare funding in the United States with funding in England. He gives his definition of biomedicine, his opinion about the role of politics in science, and his praise of cultural diversity at the University of North Carolina.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1988 Union College BA Biology
1992 University of Texas at Austin PhD Zoology

Professional Experience

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

1992 to 1993
Postdoctorate, under John White
1993 to 1996
Postdoctorate, Independent

University of California, Berkeley

1996 to 1999
Postdoctorate, Molecular and Cell Biology under David A. Weisblat

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

1999 to 2005
Assistant Professor, Biology
2005
Associate Professor, Biology
2005
Full Professor, Biology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1993

Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin

1993 to 1994

American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow

1994 to 1996

Human Frontiers Science Program Postdoctoral Fellow

1995

Development Traveling Fellow

1996

Medical Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, Cambridge, England

1996 to 1998

Miller Institute Research Fellow, University of California, Berkeley

2000 to 2002

March of Dimes Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar

2000 to 2004

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

2005

Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

2007

Visiting Fellow, Clare Hall, Cambridge University

2007

Guggenheim Fellow

Table of Contents

Childhood and High School
1

Grows up in Massapequa, Long Island, New York. Family. Parents' employment. Mother's citizenship. Schooling. Guitar. No special interest in science. Parentalexpectations. Good student. Last year of high school at local college. Jobs.

Union College and Research
16

Enrolls at Union College, intending to go to medical school. Biology major. College life. Political activism. Interest in music. Learns carillon. College jobs. Considers philosophy major. Symbolic logic and embryology class inspire interest in research. Ray Rappaport's influence. Michael Frohlich's lab. Shakyhands. Campus radio job.

Graduate School at the University of Texas
27

Wants to work with animals, not plants. Decides on embryology. Advised to goto University of Texas. Starts in summer at Friday Harbor Laboratories in Seattle,Washington, with Gary Freeman. Camping out. Rotations. Working alone. Difficulty for first two years. Developing friendships through radio station. Ascidian and snail embryos. Plays in bands in evenings. C. elegans. Learns tomake medium from Lois Edgar in William Wood's lab in Boulder, Colorado. Gives first talk. James Priess's skepticism. Publishes first paper. Wins Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation award.

The Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the University of California, Berkeley
52

Wants to choose own projects. Enters John White's lab at LMB. White leavesfor Wisconsin. Wonderful equipment, including original confocal microscope. Human Frontier Science Program grant. 4D microscope shared with Steven Hird,working independently on axis specification. In vitro experiments with C. elegans. Loves postdoc years; takes second postdoc at University of California, Berkeley, in David Weisblat's lab. Meets future wife. Excited about thirty varieties of nematodes. Works on changing entry point of sperm.

Faculty at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
75

Accepts assistant professorship at University of North Carolina. Marriage andhoneymoon. Traveling across the country. Brothers' jobs. Setting up his lab. Lab management and writing process. His first postdoc, Jean-Claude Labbé. Administrative responsibilities. Independence in lab. Balancing work and family. Music in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Grants. Want signaling. Tardigrades, especially water bears. Comparing National Institutes of Health grants with those of National Science Foundation. Explains his Guggenheim Fellowship. Compares funding in the United States and in England. Discusses definition of biomedicine; role of politics in science; cultural diversity at North Carolina. More about water bears.

Index
104

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.