The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Christopher Rongo was born in Las Vegas, Nevada, as an only child. Although science always interested him, he did not always have the determination to be a scientist. His undergraduate work at the University of California, San Diego fed his love of science, but a difficult research project in Ruth Lehmann's lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) nearly ended his scientific career. Refocusing his efforts and determination he was finally able to succeed in Lehmann's lab, and graduate just before she left MIT. He faced similar obstacles in Josh Kaplan's lab, first at Massachusetts General Hospital and then at the University of California, Berkeley. Despite setbacks as a graduate student and a postdoc, Rongo's career flourished as a professor. His early challenges prepared him to face the challenges set before a new PI, and ensured his continued success in neuroscience. The vast majority of his interview is focused on his work with Rutgers, what it is like being a PI, and the challenges faced by PIs attempting to juggle social lives, funding applications, and their own desire to be at the bench. In a time of pressure to publish and strong competition for funding, Rongo insists on moving forward. His increased interest in medical relevance in his work fuels his ambition. He looks towards what science has to offer in the future and is excited by the prospects that lie ahead, while openly facing the challenges presented to him. In addition, he discusses his receipt of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Award and what that has meant to his career.
|1990||University of California, San Diego||BA||Molecular Biology|
|1996||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||PhD||Biology|
Massachusetts General Hospital
University of California, Berkeley
Waksman Institute of Microbiology
|1989 to 1990||
Alumni Association Scholarship, University of California, San Diego
John Muir College Most Outstanding Graduate, University of California, San Diego
Phi Beta Kappa
National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship
|1997 to 2000||
The Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research Post- Doctoral Fellowship
|2000 to 2001||
Johnson & Johnson Discovery Award
|2001 to 2005||
Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences
|2002 to 2003||
Johnson & Johnson Discovery Award
Table of Contents
Growing up in Nevada. Only Child. Early interest in science. Gifted programs. Teachers. Increased interest in science. Parental expectations. Not accepted toIvy League. First year at UNLV. Transferred to UCSD and intensified studies. Focused on getting into good grad school. Didn't have time to enjoy city. Triedto avoid temptation. Enjoyed sailing With roommate. Larger class sizes butmore exciting course work. Joined David Brenner's lab senior year.
Applying to graduate school. Choosing MIT. John Muir Award. Phi BetaKappa. Parents reaction. No classmates chose MIT. No rotations first year. Strong bond between first year students. Choosing Ruth Lehmann's lab. Interestin cell biology. The Oskar gene. RNA localization. Competitive environment. Lehmann often gone from lab. Learning in competitive environment. Difficulties of graduate research. The writing process. Validation throughpublication. Finished just before Lehmann left MIT.
Neuroscience had a lot of potential. Encouraged by a talk by Richard Axel. Wanted intersection of neuroscience, cell biology, and developmental biology. The Kaplan Lab at Mass General. Lots of interaction between labs. Jointmeetings with Ruvkun lab. Why he chose C. elegans. Status of worm genomeproject. The move to Berkeley.
Opposite of postdoc applications. Interviewed a dozen places. Three orfour job offers. Why he chose Rutgers. Alone in the lab. Collaboration withBonnie Firestein. Published within first year. Attracting grad students. Academic rigor. Teaching philosophy.
Awareness of award and its implications. Application to Rutgers internalcommittee. Conservatism and grant funding. Value of the Pew award. Relationships from the Pew.
Controlling all of the variables. Advantages and disadvantages of differing neuroscientific methods Changing modes of publication. Online journals. Publishing controversial findings. Foreign v. domestic students. Attrition fromthe scientific field
Westinghouse science fair. Waksman Student Scholars program. Popularscientific programming for mass audiences. Scientific Competition. Europeanv. American model. Focus on medical relevance. Medical relevance inPew application. Media controversies. Stem Cells. Public misconceptions ofscience. Publicizing controversial findings. Ignoring need for consensus.
Time commitment to lab work. Hobbies. Keeping intellectually balanced. Controversies as a result of media circus and lack of public knowledge. Understanding the scientific method. What is fundable. Funding affectingresearch choices. The job market for students.
About the Interviewer
Hilary Domush was a Program Associate in the Center for Oral History at CHF from 2007–2015. Previously, she earned a BS in chemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 2003. She then completed an MS in chemistry and an MA in history of science both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her graduate work in the history of science focused on early nineteenth-century chemistry in the city of Edinburgh, while her work in the chemistry was in a total synthesis laboratory. At CHF, she worked on projects such as the Pew Biomedical Scholars, Women in Chemistry, Atmospheric Science, and Catalysis.
David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and editor for the Oral History Review. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds an annual training institute that focuses on conducting interviews with scientists and engineers, he consults on various oral history projects, like at the San Diego Technology Archives, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history. His current research interests are the discipline formation of biomedical science in 20th-century America and the organizational structures that have contributed to such formation.