Michael B. McKeown

Born: July 6, 1953 | Ft. Hood, TX, US
Died: Thursday, December 21, 2017

Michael McKeown grew up in a small town near San Francisco, California. McKeown attended Stanford University, where he began in math but switched to biology. He liked the small classes and the opportunity for close interaction with the faculty. He worked in a lab during summers, studying bacteria and publishing one paper on thymidine.McKeown decided to use his Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Fellowship at University of California, San Diego. He began working in Dictyostelium in Richard Firtel’s lab, but switched to Drosophila. For his postdoc, McKeown stayed at UCSD and worked in Bruce Baker’s lab. McKeown accepted an offer at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, continuing his work on Drosophila.

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0744
No. of pages: 37
Minutes: 140

Interview Sessions

Richard Sawyer and Arnold Thackray
20 June 1990
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California

Abstract of Interview

Michael McKeown grew up in a small town near San Francisco, California. His father held several positions in a sheet metal company whose main client was the U.S. Navy. His mother was a housewife. He remembers always being curious about how and why things worked, and he liked to do experiments. McKeown attended Stanford University, where he began in math but switched to biology. He liked the small classes and the opportunity for close interaction with the faculty. He worked in a lab during summers, studying bacteria and publishing one paper on thymidine.

McKeown decided to use his Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Fellowship at University of California, San Diego (UCSD), as their excellent faculty were working on interesting problems, and they were flexible about classwork. He began working in Dictyostelium in Richard Firtel’s lab, but switched to Drosophila. For his postdoc, McKeown stayed at UCSD, where there was a network of Whitney Fellows; there he worked in Bruce Baker’s lab.

As his funding began to run out McKeown accepted a very good offer at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He was able to take his project with him from Baker’s lab and to obtain more funding. He finds that funding is tighter and more competitive, so the Pew award has provided peace of mind as well as a wide-ranging network of scientists. He still likes bench work and still gets a thrill from completing a successful experiment, but he thinks occasionally of perhaps moving out of Drosophila; he feels that there is still much to learn about the regulation of differentiation. Although the Salk is not directly tied to biotechs, McKeown thinks that San Diego’s large number of biotech firms provides a good community of scientists and, more prosaically, jobs for postdocs.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1975 Stanford University BS Biological Sciences
1981 University of California, San Diego PhD Biology

Professional Experience

University of California, San Diego

1981 to 1985
Post Doctorate

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

1985 to 1991
Assistant Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1975 to 1978

National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship

1978 to 1981

National Institutes of Health Predoctoral Traineeships

1981 to 1982

National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Trainee

1982 to 1991

Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow

1986 to 1989

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences Award

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Born in Texas, grew up in small town near San Francisco, California. Family background. Junior high school math class.

College Years
5

Stanford University; biology major. Michael Kahn taught how to design experiments. Bacteria’s scope for many experiments. Published paper. Funding. Summer jobs. Other classes. Experiments with thymidine.

Graduate School and Postdoctoral Years
10

UCSD faculty. Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Fellowship. Gene families in Richard Firtel’s lab. Funding. Working in Dictyostelium; switched to Drosophila. UCSD best place for studying flies. Number of Whitney Fellows; network. Bruce Baker’s lab and molecular biology. Baker’s lab composition and management style.

Starting His Own Lab
19

Choosing Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Relationship with Baker. Funding. Very good start-up package. Lab composition and size. Allocation of his time. Wife math teacher and then tutor. Two children. Spare time. Lack of graduate students a drawback. National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation funding tight. Financial insecurity deters potential hires; frequent grant-writing takes time from science. Pew Award.

General Thoughts
26

Possibly moving out of Drosophila. Likes bench work; keeps one current. Regulation of differentiation. Abundance of biotech firms helps form community of scientists, provides jobs for postdocs.

Index
36

About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

Richard Sawyer