Joshua M. Kaplan

Born: May 1960 | Boston, MA, US

Joshua M. Kaplan was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He grew up in an academic family, and in high school began his first research experience with his father, studying in vitro red blood cell development. Kaplan studied biochemistry at Yale University, working in Charles A. Janeway's lab. At the University of California, San Francisco, he researched cancer-associated src protein with J. Michael Bishop and Harold E. Varmus, and earned his PhD After a postdoc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an environment he found difficult but instructive, and a brief stay at Harvard, Kaplan became assistant professor at University of California, Berkeley. His current research focuses on mapping signal transduction in the simple nervous system of C. elegans, in an effort to understand the workings of more complex nervous systems.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0453
No. of pages: 100
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
22-24 June 1999
University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California

Abstract of Interview

Joshua M. Kaplan was born in 1960 in Boston, Massachusetts, the youngest of three siblings. His father was an academic physician specializing in hematology, and his mother was a social worker. Raised in a traditionally academic family, Kaplan and his siblings were expected to perform well in school and to pursue higher education. In high school Kaplan began his first research experience working under one of his father's colleagues, studying in vitro red blood cell development. From this point on he was inclined to study science and was interested in laboratory research. Kaplan attended Yale University, where he declared a major in chemistry but would later switch to biochemistry, working in Charles A. Janeway's immunology lab. He also met his wife-to-be, Jennifer S. Haas, there. Kaplan then matriculated into the University of California, San Francisco Medical School, where after his first year of medical training he decided to switch into a doctorate program. Kaplan did his research on cancer-associated src protein with J. Michael Bishop and Harold E. Varmus; he earned his PhD in 1988. He then pursued his research with a postdoctoral fellowship in Dr. H. Robert Horvitz's lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He had a hard time adjusting to the very different environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he credits his time spent there as some of his most difficult yet instructive years. In 1997 Kaplan was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard University. In 1997 he left Harvard University and was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Berkeley. His current research focuses on mapping signal transduction in the simple nervous system of C. elegans, in an effort to understand the workings of more complex nervous systems. Throughout his oral history Kaplan stresses the difficulty that academic researchers can face when trying to balance family and career, and the importance of putting family first. He has received many awards and honors including the Medical Scientist Training Program, the University of California Chancellor's Fellowship, and a Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant, which he discusses in the oral history.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1982 Yale University BA Biochemistry
1988 University of California, San Francisco PhD

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1989 to 1992
Postdoctoral Fellow

Harvard University

1992 to 1997
Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics

University of California, Berkeley

1997
Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1982 to 1987

Medical Scientist Training Program

1986

University of California Chancellor's Fellow

1994 to 1998

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

Table of Contents

Growing Up
1

Family background. Parental expectations. Growing up in St. Louis. Move to Minneapolis. Early scientific interest. Lab experience in high school. Influential figures. Applying to Universities.

Undergraduate Education
17

Attends Yale University, majoring in biochemistry. Research in Charles A. Janeway's immunology lab Other research experiences. Meets future wife, Jennifer Haas. Wife's career. Deciding on further education.

Graduate School Education
21

Enters University of California, San Francisco Medical School, but switches to PhD Program. Research with J. Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus. Struggles with PhD research. Switches to cancer-associated src protein. Choosing a postdoctoral lab.

Postdoctoral Research
30

H. Robert Horvitz's lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Research environment differences. Lessons learned. Finding a job.

Life as a Principal Investigator
34

Assistant Professor of Genetics at Harvard University. Accepts assistant professorship in molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Religion. Science and Religion. Choosing C. elegans. Research on C. elegans nervous system signaling.

Research and Practice
45

Focuses on Serotonin. Applications of research. Funding. Publication. Grant Writing. Receives Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant. Lab management. Teaching. Administrative Responsibilities.

Family and Academic Life
71

Wife and children. Sharing responsibilities. Typical day. Free-time activities. Living in Berkeley. Collaboration and competition in science. Sharing information. Patents. Conflicts of interest between academic and commercial sectors. Technology. Goals. Career options. Racial and gender inequities. Tenure. Current academic job market

Index
97

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen