Stephen L. Johnson

Born: December 26, 1960 | Cleveland, OH, US
Died: December 15, 2017

Stephen L. Johnson was raised in Nashville, Tennessee. While studying writing at Vanderbilt University, he worked in Lee Limbird's pharmacology lab, though he was still unsure if science suited him. Ultimately he decided to pursue science and joined the genetics department at University of Washington, where he worked under Breck Byers on fusing Cdc4 and LAC-Z genes in yeast. He was also mentored by Leland H. Hartwell. Upon finishing graduate studies, Johnson worked on zebrafish with James A. Weston and Charles A. Kimmel at University of Oregon, researching tissue regeneration mutants, pigment patterns, isometric growth, and genetic mapping. He also developed inbred strains and centromere markers for mapping the zebrafish genome. Johnson then accepted a position at Washington University School of Medicine to continue his work.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0594
No. of pages: 77
Minutes: 300

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
25-26 September 2002

Abstract of Interview

Stephen L. Johnson was raised in Nashville, Tennessee, the middle (with his twin brother) of four children, growing up in the pre- and post-Civil Rights Era. His father received his degree in electrical engineering and taught in that discipline at Vanderbilt University, though he also pursued a degree in divinity; his mother was a trained psychologist. Johnson partook in the normal activities of childhood, including Boy Scouts and music, but he had a very high affinity for and interest in writing. He matriculated at Vanderbilt University with the intention of becoming a writer.
After deciding against becoming a novelist, Johnson's interest in science was piqued while working in Lee Limbird's pharmacology lab, though he still had some trepidation about whether or not science actually suited him. Ultimately he decided to pursue science and was accepted into the genetics department at the University of Washington, Seattle, where he worked under Breck Byers on fusing Cdc4 and LAC-Z genes in yeast. While at Washington he was also fortunate to be mentored by Nobel laureate Leland H. Hartwell. Upon finishing his graduate studies Johnson decided to remain in the Northwest and began to work on zebrafish with James A. Weston and Charles A. Kimmel at the University of Oregon, Eugene. While there he worked on tissue regeneration mutants, pigment patterns, isometric growth, and genetic mapping, and he developed inbred strains and centromere markers for mapping the zebrafish genome. Johnson then accepted a position at Washington University School of Medicine to continue his work.
Near the end of the interview Johnson uses the topics already discussed in his oral history as a way to reflect upon his scientific development and the ways in which he mentors students and how he thinks about and practices science. The interview concludes with Johnson's thoughts on the role of technological innovation on his work; the advantages and disadvantages of competition in science; the direction of the national science agenda; the National Institutes of Health; gender issues; and the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences funding on his work.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1983 University of Pennsylvania BA Chemistry and Molecular Biology
1991 University of Washington PhD Genetics

Professional Experience

University of Oregon

1991 to 1996
Postdoctoral Associate

Washington University School of Medicine

1996 to 2002
Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics
2002 to 2003
Associate Professor, Department of Genetics

Honors

Year(s) Award
1979

National Merit Scholarship

1983

Eastman Kodak Chemistry Scholarship

1985 to 1986

Graduate School Recruitment Fellowship, University of Washington

1991 to 1992

Leslie V. Gates Young Investigator Award, National Neurofibromatosis Foundation

1992 to 1994

NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship

1997 to 2001

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Childhood
1

Family background. Parental expectations. Siblings. Childhood interests and experiences. Interest in reading. Growing up in the South. Integration. Religion. Early schooling in Nashville, Tennessee. Favorite academic subjects. Extracurricular activities in the Boy Scouts and in music. Career expectations after high school to become a writer.

College and Graduate School
15

Vanderbilt University. Decides against becoming a novelist. Becomes interested in science while working in a pharmacology lab. Ideas on how science should be taught. Extracurricular activity in theater. Social life in college. Attends graduate school in the genetics department at the University of Washington in Seattle. Works on fusing Cdc4 and LAC-Z genes in yeast for his Ph.D. projectunder Breck Byers. Nobel laureate Leland H. Hartwell. Cell growth control in a vertebrate animal.

Postdoctoral Work and Establishing a Lab
31

Postdoctoral work on zebrafish in James A. Weston's laboratory at University of Oregon in Eugene. Charles A. Kimmel laboratory. Weston's and Kimmel'smentoring styles. Tissue regeneration mutants, pigment patterns, isometric growth, and genetic mapping. Develops inbred strains and centromere markers for mapping the zebrafish genome. Accepts a position at Washington University School of Medicine. Current research on zebrafish genomics and stem cells. Future research plans. Long and short-term applications of his research.

Reflections on Science and Career
43

Siblings. Learns how to ask scientific questions while working in Lee E. Limbird's pharmacology laboratory. More on ideas on how student's should be taught science in the United States. Learns the process of writing journal articles in James Weston's laboratory. Duties as a principal investigator. Travel commitments. Administrative duties. Tenure process at Washington University School of Medicine. Grant writing process. Funding history. Laboratory management style. Setting up his lab. Leisure activities. Patents. Ideas on theethics of privatization of scientific research. Views on the history of science and the importance of knowing how scientists develop their ideas. Technological innovation. Future biological research Competition and collaborations. National science agenda. National Institutes of Health. Views on oversight of stem cell research. Scientists in public policy. Gender. The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index
75

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten