Lester F. Lau
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Lester F. Lau, the youngest of three children, lived in Hong Kong until he was fourteen. Lau's parents were strict, Lau was—he says—introverted, and Chinese schools stressed conformity over creativity, so when the family moved to Brooklyn Lau was able to do so well in science and mathematics that he skipped a grade. This led to difficulty in high school, as his understanding of English did not keep pace. He actually ended up seventh in his class of over 1,000, however, which was more than good enough to qualify him for City College of New York. He decided to go there in great part because it was free, but another consideration was that he had been accepted into their honors program and given a scholarship. He originally thought he might be a history major, but an organic chemistry class changed his mind. He found science to be like a puzzle or a detective story; and he was excited by the enormous addition to knowledge that science had provided. Lau began graduate school at Purdue University, studying X-ray crystallography, but he switched to molecular biology at Cornell University, entering Ray Wu's lab. He describes working with Jeffrey Roberts, manipulating synthetic DNA to study transcription and termination. Here he discusses the shift from his interest in procaryotic systems to eucaryotic systems; continuity and discontinuity in his career; and his independent research style. From there he went to Gerald Fink's lab to study yeast genetics, and he created a double-mutation yeast strain. He decided to do a postdoc in molecular biology in Daniel Nathans's lab at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and he received a Helen Hays Whitney Fellowship. Here Lau talks about the genesis and impact of Nathans's work on simian virus 40; the value of interacting with other fellows; and applying a molecular approach to studying cell cycle regulation. He continues with a discussion of the difficulties involved in differential hybridization; differential screening in other labs; encountering skepticism in the field; prior work on how genes activate cells; the usefulness of simple lab techniques; the reaction to Lau's findings; and the politics of scientific publishing. Lau gives his opinion about whether outsiders can still make contributions to science, grant review sections, and the status of women and minorities in science. He talks more about the reception given his papers and publication timing and the job market. He goes into his reasons for leaving Nathans's lab. At this point in his career, Lau began to hunt for a job. One criterion was his preference for big cities, so he accepted a position at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and set up his new lab. His next peroration encompasses the role of basic research in a medical school, to wit the teaching duties of research biologists versus doing research. Lau's next move was to the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago, where he is now an associate professor. He discusses sequencing cDNAs; trying to determine gene functions; and his competitors. He explains how different stimuli can activate immediate-early genes; the complex process of cell cycle regulation; the need to look beyond the tissue culture model to the organism; and how he learned to make transgenic mice. He concludes by talking about his National Institutes of Health grant reviews and his plans to explore a genetics approach to isolating immediate-early genes.
|1976||City College of New York||BS||Chemistry|
|1983||Cornell University||PhD||Biochemistry/Molecular Biology|
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Northwestern University Medical School
University of Illinois College of Medicine
Phi Beta Kappa
Arthur Levy Award for Chemistry, City College of New York
|1978 to 1981||
National Institutes of Health Predoctoral Training Grant
|1983 to 1986||
Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellowship
|1988 to 1991||
American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Award
|1988 to 1992||
Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences
|1992 to 1995||
University Scholar Award, University of Illinois
|1992 to 1997||
Established Investigator, American Heart Association
Table of Contents
Hong Kong. Early education. Parents. How Chinese schools stressed conformity over creativity. Family's move to Brooklyn. High school. Extended family in China. Assimilation. Decision to attend City College of New York (CCNY). Commuting to college from home. CCNY honors program. Reasons for pursuinga career in science.
Enters graduate school at Purdue University to study X-ray crystallography. Switches to pursuing molecular biology at Cornell University. Research in Ray Wu's lab. Working with Jeffrey W. Roberts. Manipulating synthetic DNA to study transcription and termination. Shift from interest in procaryotic systems to eucaryotic systems. Studies yeast genetics in Gerald R. Fink's lab. Creates adouble-mutation yeast strain. Decides to do a postdoc in molecular biology in Daniel Nathans's lab at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Genesis and impact of Nathans's work on simian virus 40. Helen Hays Whitney Fellowship. Molecular approach to study cell cycle regulation. Difficulties involved in differential hybridization. Politics of scientific publishing. Peer review.
Future plans. Grant review sections. Status of women and minorities in science. Publication timing and the job market. Job hunting. Preference for big cities. Accepts a position at Northwestern University Medical School. Setting up a newlab. University politics. Decision to leave Northwestern. Role of basic research in a medical school. Teaching duties of research biologists.
Move to the University of Illinois College of Medicine. Sequencing cDNAs. Trying to determine gene functions. How different stimuli can activate immediate-early genes. Complex process of cell cycle regulation. Looking beyond the tissue culture model to the organism. Learning to make transgenic mice. National Institutes of Health grant reviews. Plans to explore a genetics approach to isolating immediate-early genes.