Daniel S. Kessler

Born: February 1964 | Manhasset, NY, US
Photograph Daniel S. Kessler

Daniel S. Kessler was raised in Binghamton, New York and attended Cornell University for his undergraduate degree. Not until he worked in Stanley A. Zahler's bacterial genetics laboratory did he decide to become a scientist. He went on to Rockefeller University for graduate studies, where he worked with James Darnell on interferon signaling proteins (the STATs) identifying the activation of STATs in response to interferons, the STAT complex, and its regulation. Kessler then pursued postdoctoral research in developmental biology with Douglas A. Melton at Harvard University. Finally, he accepted a faculty position at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where he works on control of mesoderm and endoderm germ layer formation, behavior of nodal signals during different stages of embryogenesis, and formation of the Spemann organizer.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0522
No. of pages: 95
Minutes: 450

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
13 and 16-17 June 2003
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Daniel S. Kessler was raised in Binghamton, New York, the youngest of three siblings. His mother was a public school teacher; his father taught at Binghamton University and was a published poet. Much of Kessler's life was spent within an academic world, with undergraduate and graduate student and faculty stopping by his family's home. The family also traveled when Kessler's father was on sabbatical, at one point providing Kessler with the opportunity to attend school in Hawaii, during which time he was exposed to the wonderment of science and, especially, marine biology. His time in public schools in Binghamton was typical, though being involved with the university allowed him access to outlets for his interest in music. Kessler matriculated at Cornell University for his undergraduate degree; it was not until he worked in Stanley A. Zahler's bacterial genetics laboratory that he decided to become a scientist. He then went on the Rockefeller University in New York City, New York, for his graduate studies. At Rockefeller, Kessler worked with James Darnell on interferon signaling proteins (the STATs) identifying the activation of STATs in response to interferons, the STAT complex, and its regulation; during this time he also had the opportunity to learn structural biology at Oxford University in Anthony R. Rees's laboratory as part of a summer exchange program and to attend Ronald McKay's summer course in neurobiology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Following his PhD , Kessler decided to pursue postdoctoral research in developmental biology on the regulation of the mesoderm and endoderm germ layers by the transformation growth factor beta signaling molecule, Vgl, with Douglas A. Melton at Harvard University. He then accepted a faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine to work on the control of mesoderm and endoderm germ layer formation, the behavior of nodal signals during different stages of embryogenesis, and the formation of the Spemann organizer. Throughout his oral history interview Kessler discusses issues like scientific funding; the grant-writing process; the role of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award for his work; balancing family and career; his future projects incorporating other model systems into his research strategies for studying endoderm germ layer differentiation and dorsal body axis formation; and the history of science and his research. The interview ends a discussion of what Kessler thinks about being a principal investigator, and concludes with more on his father's career.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1986 Cornell University BS Biology
1990 The Rockefeller University PhD Molecular Biology

Professional Experience

The Rockefeller University

1986 to 1990
Doctoral research with Dr. James Darnell

New York University Medical Center

1990 to 1991
Department of Pathology, Postdoctoral research with Dr. David Levy

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

1991 to 1995
Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Postdoctoral research with Dr. Douglas Melton

University of Pennsylvania Medical School

1995 to 2002
Assistant Professor, Department of Cell & Developmental Biology
2002
Associate Professor, Department of Cell & Developmental Biology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1985 to 1986

Cornell Tradition Scholar

1986

BS magna cum laude with distinction

1986

Phi Kappa Phi Honorary Society

1986 to 1987

ARCS Fellowship

1990

Society of General Physiologists Scholarship, MBL Embryology Course

1990

ARCS Scholar

1991 to 1994

Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship

1995 to 1998

University of Pennsylvania-HHMI Scientist Award

1996 to 1999

American Digestive Health Foundation, AGA and Schering Plough
Corporation Research Scholar Award

1997 to 2001

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

1999

John Morgan Society

Table of Contents

Early Years and College
1

Growing up in Binghamton, New York. Parents. Siblings. Interest in music. Educational experience in Hawaii. High school in Binghamton, New York. Organic chemistry class at Cornell University. Religion. Work in Stanley A. Zahler's bacterial genetics laboratory.

Graduate Years
25

Rockefeller University. James E. Darnell. Doctoral research identifying the family of interferon signaling proteins (STATs). Oxford University and Anthony R. Rees. Learning structural biology during a summer exchange program. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory summer course in neurobiology taught by Ronald McKay.

Postdoctoral and Faculty Years
36

Douglas A. Melton. Harvard University. Research in developmental biology on the regulation of the primary germ layers by the transformation growth factor beta signaling molecule, Vgl. Meets and marries his wife. Vg1 in regulating the mesoderm and endoderm germ layers. University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Research in developmental biology on the control of mesoderm and endoderm germ layer formation, the behavior of nodal signals during different stages of embryogenesis, and the formation of the Spemann organizer.

Thoughts on Science and the Scientific Process
54

Broader applications of science. Serendipity. Teaching responsibilities. Writing journal articles. Funding history. Grant-writing process. Impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award on Kessler's work. Balancing family and career. Leisure activities. Incorporation of other model systems into his research strategies for studying endoderm germ layer differentiation and dorsal body axis formation. Tenure at the University of Pennsylvania.

Final Thoughts
76

Creative ideas. The history of science. Competition and collaboration in research. Prioritizing research projects. The national scientific agenda. Improving public knowledge about science. Privatization of research. His father's career.

Index
93

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten