Kuo-Fen Lee

Born: August 12, 1959 | Kaohsiung, TW

Kuo-Fen Lee was raised in Kaohsing, Taiwan and attended National Taiwan University, where he became interested in molecular biology after a virology course. He received his master's degree from National Yang-Ming Medical College, and then pursued his doctorate at Baylor College of Medicine. He researched gene regulation using transgenic technology and steroid hormone peptides in Jeffrey M. Rosen's lab. During a postdoc at Whitehead Institute for Biological Research, he worked on crafting a genetic knockout mouse to study neural crest cell migration during development and published in Cell, Science, and Nature. After meeting Story C. Landis and Wylie Vale and attending a Gordon Research Conference on hormone action, Lee accepted a position at Salk Institute for Biological Studies, researching neurobiological development, synapse function, and glial cell function. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0596
No. of pages: 85
Minutes: 400

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
26-27 April 2004
Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California

Abstract of Interview

Kuo-Fen Lee was raised in Kaohsing, Taiwan where he (the youngest) and his four siblings helped his single mother run a restaurant. Lee had what he considers a normal childhood; in terms of parental expectations, all Lee's mother wanted was for her sons to attend university. Lee and his brothers all tutored other students throughout their childhood and so doing well on the national exams was not a great challenge for Lee. He attended the National Taiwan University and developed an interest in molecular biology after taking a virology course and working in plant virology. Lee then pursued a master's degree in molecular biology form National Yang-Ming Medical College where he researched cell-surface glycoprotein antigens in hepatoma. Wanting to continue his education, he decided to pursue his doctoral degree at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, which served as his first introduction to the experience of American culture. While at Baylor, he chose to research gene regulation using transgenic technology and steroid hormone peptides in Jeffrey M. Rosen's lab. Lee then moved to a postdoctoral position at the Whitehead Institute for Biological Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He worked on crafting a genetic knockout mouse to study neural crest cell migration during development in the Rudolf Jaenisch lab and, while there, he published in Cell, Science, and Nature. After meeting Story C. Landis and Wylie Vale and attending a Gordon Research Conference on hormone action, Lee accepted a position at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, focusing his research on neurobiological development, synapse function, and glial cell function. The interview concludes with a discussion of Lee's interest in comparing the histories of Chinese and Western science, his professional and academic duties, and his family. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
National Taiwan University Plant Pathology
National Yang-Ming Medical College MS Cancer Enzymology and Cell Differentiation
Baylor College of Medicine PhD Endocrinology

Professional Experience

Whitehead Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Postdoctoral Fellow

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Professor, Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1997 to 2001

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Science Grant, Society for Neuroscience, and the American Society for Advancement of Science

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Growing up in Taiwan. Parental expectations. Siblings. Religion. Educational system in Taiwan. Middle school in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Interest in journalism. The political situation in Taiwan. The college entrance system in Taiwan. Attends the National Taiwan University.

Undergraduate and Graduate Years
26

Becomes interested in molecular biology. Work in plant virology. Master's degree in molecular biology from National Yang-Ming Medical College. Thesis research on cell-surface glycoprotein antigens in hepatoma. Graduate school at Baylor College of Medicine. American culture. Jeffrey M. Rosen. Doctoralresearch in gene regulation using transgenic technology and steroid hormone peptides.

Postdoctoral and Faculty Years
35

Postdoctoral fellowship in Rudolf Jaenisch's laboratory at the Whitehead Institute. Development of a genetic knockout mouse to study neural crest cell migration. Story C. Landis. Gordon Conference on hormone action. Wylie Vale. Accepts a position at Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Meets and marries wife. Hischildren. Tenure at the Salk Institute. Research in neurobiology development on synapse formation and glial cell function.

Final Thoughts
59

Creativity in research. Comparing the histories of Chinese and Western science. Administrative duties. Teaching responsibilities. Balancing family and career. Writing journal articles. Competition and collaboration in science. The national scientific agenda. The scientist's role in improving science literacy among the public.

Index
83

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten