Paul M. MacDonald

Born: November 12, 1955 | Denver, CO, US

Paul M. Macdonald was born in Denver, Colorado. Uninterested in school and preferring outdoor sports, attended Colorado State University's forestry school, but remained undirected until a class with Larry Hopwood in radiation biology. He loved the class and worked in the lab. Because of his excellent GRE scores and his lab work he was able to attend graduate school at Georgia Tech, where he worked on bacteriophage mutant. After finishing his Ph.D. at Vanderbilt and postdocs at Harvard and Columbia, he took a faculty position at Stanford University. His work included studying how molecules that control patterning are localized, comparing RNA sequences from different Drosophila species, redundancy of information in Drosophila RNA, and the role of chance in his mRNA oskar research. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0486
No. of pages: 118
Minutes: 400

Interview Sessions

Steven J. Novak
21-23 February 1995
Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

Abstract of Interview

Paul M. Macdonald was born in Denver, Colorado, to a forensic psychologist from New Zealand and an American nurse. He has an older sister, who is a dean at William and Mary College, and a younger brother. He grew up as much outdoors as he could manage; uninterested in school and preferring skiing, bicycling, backpacking, and rock climbing to studying, he decided to attend Colorado State University's forestry school. During summers he worked for the Youth Conservation Corps in Colorado and then in California. Continuing his uninspired high-school pattern, he remained a poor and undirected student until his last year, when he had a class with Larry Hopwood in radiation biology. He loved the class and asked to work in a lab. Because of his excellent GRE scores and his lab work he was a candidate for graduate school. He went to Georgia Tech partly because it had faculty who interested him and because he wanted to distance himself from his usual outdoor distractions. He worked on bacteriophage mutant in Dwight H. Hall's lab to finish his Master's degree. Then he applied to Vanderbilt for a PhD in molecular bio techniques under Gisela Mosig; Lee Rowen taught him recombinant DNA techniques, and he finished his PhD He accepted a postdoc at Harvard, working in Tom Maniatis's lab. He worked with Gary Struhl there, identifying proteins involved in adh gene expression and with molecular gradient in Drosophila embryos. He went to Colulmbia as a postdoc with Struhl. From there he accepted a faculty position at Stanford University. His work included studying how molecules that control patterning are localized; comparing RNA sequences from different Drosophila species; redundancy of information in Drosophila RNA, and the role of chance in his mRNA oskar research. Macdonald has published many articles, continues at Stanford to run and work in his lab, teaches, and attempts to balance all this with his life at home with his wife and infant son. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1978 Colorado State University BS
1980 Georgia Institute of Technology MS
1983 Vanderbilt University PhD

Professional Experience

Harvard University

1984 to 1986
Postdoctoral Fellow

Columbia University

1987 to 1989
Postdoctoral Fellow

Stanford University

1989 to 1996
Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences

Honors

Year(s) Award
1981 to 1983

Predoctoral Fellow, National Institutes of Health Cellular-Molecular Biology Graduate Training Program

1984 to 1986

Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Postdoctoral Fellowship

1990 to 1993

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1990 to 1994

David and Lucile Packard Fellowship

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, with a sister and a brother. Always interested in the outdoors; loves skiing, biking, backpacking, rock climbing; dislikes school and studying. Summer employment with the Youth Conservation Corps. His shyness asan adolescent.

Undergraduate Years
12

Enters Colorado State University in the forestry department; switches to pre-med; then just drifts, unable to engage with school, though he has one interesting course in biochemistry, where a guest speaker discusses recombinant DNA, new at the time. In his last year he discovers radiation biology and becomes excited at last; works in radiation biology lab; decides to go to graduate school

Graduate Years
18

Enters master's program at Georgia Institute of Technology. Characterizing a bacteriophage mutant in the Dwight H. Hall laboratory. Transfers to Vanderbilt University to pursue Ph.D. under Gisela Mosig. Develops expertise in molecular biological techniques in Mosig's lab. Learns recombinant DNA techniques from Lee Rowen courses.

Postdoc Years at Harvard University
31

Accepts a postdoc in Tom Maniatis' lab at Harvard University. Meets Gary Struhl. Unsuccessfully attempts to identify proteins involved in Adh gene expression. Characterizes homeobox-containing genes with Struhl. Problems with the argument that caudal gene products are present in a gradient in the early embryo. Collaborating on research with Struhl. Demonstrating molecular gradient in Drosophila embryos.

Postdoc at Columbia
36

Accepts a postdoc in Struhl's lab at Columbia University. Fellow postdocs in the Struhl lab. Relationship with Struhl.

Faculty Position at Stanford University
55

Accepts a position at the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. Macdonald's start-up package. The difficulty of attracting good graduate students to his lab. Interactions with colleagues at Stanford and with other scientists in the San Francisco Bay Area. Stanford's tenure review process--Administration and bureaucratic regulations at Stanford. Macdonald's transition from postdoc to principal investigator. His Drosophila stocks. Drosophila RNA. More on translational regulation. Benefits of working with Drosophila. Competition among Drosophila researchers.

Index
115

About the Interviewer

Steven J. Novak