Samuel M. Kunes

Born: December 1957 | Trenton, NJ, US

Samuel M. Kunes was born in Trenton, New Jersey. He was uninterested in school as a child, but a decision to drive across the country after high school graduation brought him to the town of Corvallis, Oregon, where he began to realize his academic potential. Kunes earned his BS at University of Oregon, where he discovered his interest in science and did research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Next, he attended graduate school at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he became interested in genetics. He took a postdoc in Hermann Stellar's lab at MIT, studying the nervous system development of Drosophila. Kunes is now a faculty member at Harvard. His research focuses on tracing the steps and control of axonal development in fruit flies.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0544
No. of pages: 74
Minutes: 300

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
15-17 November 1999
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

Samuel M. Kunes was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1957, the second of four siblings. His father was a public accountant for the state of New Jersey; his mother was a school teacher who later became a social worker. Kunes was mostly uninterested in school as a child and struggled to find direction after high school. His decision to drive across the country after high school graduation brought him to the town of Corvallis, Oregon, where he would begin to realize his academic potential. Kunes attended Oregon State University until eventually transferring to the University of Oregon where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1981. During this time he discovered his own interest in the sciences and did research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Kunes then applied to graduate school programs and successfully matriculated into a PhD program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he performed research in David Botstein's lab and Maurice S. Fox's lab. These graduate school years steered Kunes toward the study of genetics, in which field he earned his PhD in 1988. He was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship in Hermann Stellar's lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied the nervous system development of Drosophila, using what was then the very advanced technology of confocal microscopy. In 1993 Kunes accepted an assistant professorship in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard University and was promoted to associate professor in 1999. His current research at Harvard focuses on tracing the intricate steps and control of axonal development in fruit flies. Throughout his oral history Kunes points out his aesthetic approach to science and the importance of remaining interested in the craftsmanship of scientific discovery. He has won several awards, including the Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Foundation Scholarship and a Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1981 University of Oregon BS
1988 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Molecular Biology

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1988 to 1992
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biology

Harvard University

1993 to 1999
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Assistant Professor
1999
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Associate Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1988

Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Foundation Scholarship

1994 to 1998

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

Table of Contents

Growing Up
1

Family. Early education. Childhood interests. High school. Working. Parental expectations. Driving cross-country. Settles in Corvallis, Oregon.

Undergraduate Career
13

Attends Oregon State University. Interest in botany. Transfers to the University of Oregon, Eugene. Undergraduate research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Applying to graduate schools. Taking the GRE.

Graduate School Education
20

Enters PhD program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Research in David Botstein's and Maurice S. Fox's labs. Develops interest in genetics. Switching focuses and finding a postdoctoral lab.

Postdoctoral Research
24

Postdoctoral fellowship in Hermann Stellar's lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Transition to postdoctoral research. Using confocal microscope to study nervous system development in Drosophila.

Principal Investigator Research
28

Assistant professorship at Harvard University. Tenure at Harvard. Salary and promotion. Rivalry between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Religion and science. Aesthetics of science. Competition. Lab standards and management. Contemporary students. Teaching. Lab makeup. Gender and ethnic disparities in the sciences. Grant writing. Beingawarded the Pew Grant. Administrative responsibilities. Publication.

Family Life
55

Balancing family and research. Children. Personal goals. Free time and family activities.

Biomedical Research
58

Alternative career path. Choosing academia over industry. Patenting scientific discovery. Disadvantages of modern science. Publication. Worrying about funding. Collaboration. DNA microarrays. Technology. Axonal development in the fruit fly nervous systems. Developmental transcription factors. Applications of research. Dorsal-ventral patterning of development. Daily routine.

Index
72

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen