Paul B. Rothman

Born: January 9, 1958 | Queens, NY, US

Paul B. Rothman grew up in Queens, New York. As a child, he liked to take things apart to see how they worked. Rothman matriculated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked in the Graham C. Walker lab under the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. He chose to pursue a medical degree in a research environment, settling on the Yale School of Medicine, which used a problem-solving instructional approach. After a residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, he began a postdoc in Frederick Alt's lab at Columbia; there he worked on interleukin-4 regulation of immunoglobulin class-switching. Next, he took a position at Columbia University. He has since focused his research on the role of cytokines in lymphocyte development, though pursuing this work in varied directions. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0548
No. of pages: 102
Minutes: 351

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
14-16 April 1997
Columbia University, New York, NY

Abstract of Interview

Paul B. Rothman grew up in Queens, New York, one of two children in a Russian-Polish Jewish family. His father was a lawyer, his mother a professor of criminology interested in juvenile justice. He attended public schools, being an athlete rather than an academic. His parents had high expectations of their children, as well as the knowledge and income to send them to better (Ivy League) schools. From a young age, Rothman liked to take things apart to see how they worked and then to put them back together; this translated into doing well in mathematics and science classes. Rothman matriculated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The first-year science curriculum at MIT did not prevent him from rowing on the crew team. He also began doing research in the Graham C. Walker lab under the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. He chose to pursue a medical degree in a research environment, reflecting upon the advantages of the MD degree over the MD/PhD for the clinician-researcher. Rothman decided to attend the Yale University School of Medicine, which used a problem-solving instructional approach, correlating nicely with his view of scientific inquiry. He acquired molecular techniques in Graham C. Walker's lab; took courses in immunology; and also worked in the Leonard Chess lab. For a short time he considered a career as an orthopedic surgeon, but he finally decided on a medical residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, with rheumatology as a chemical subspecialty. He began a postdoc in Frederick Alt's biochemistry and biophysics lab at Columbia; there he worked on interleukin-4 regulation of immunoglobulin class-switching and collaborations with other scientists facilitated the IL-4 research. After his postdoctoral work, he took a position at Columbia University, and he found himself unsure of the ways in which to split the class-switch and IL-4 signal transduction work with Alt, though soon he began collaborating with Christian Schindler on cytokine signaling. He has since focused his research on the role of cytokines in lymphocyte development, though pursuing this work in varied directions. The interview concludes with Rothman discussing his own lab: the advantages of being medium-sized; his lab management; and the lab's current research projects, into which he hopes to enfold research into lung cancer. He follows this with his explanation of the difference between creativity and problem-solving ability in the practice of science. He explains his clinical rheumatology duties and his teaching responsibilities at Columbia and he addresses the interviewer's questions about his funding and science funding in general; publishing; job possibilities for himself and for his lab personnel; skills necessary for a good clinician; and the interface between the pharmaceutical industry and academic research. The interview ends with a description of the challenge of balancing career and family. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1980 Massachusetts Institute of Technology BS Biology
1984 Yale University School of Medicine MD

Professional Experience

Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

1984 to 1985
Intern, Medicine
1985 to 1986
Assistant Resident

Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

1986
Clinical Fellow, Department of Rheumatology
1987 to 1990
Visiting Fellow, Department of Biochemistry
1987 to 1990
Instructor, Department of Medicine
1989 to 1991
Assistant Professor, Department of Clinical Medicine
1991 to 1998
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine and Microbiology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1980

Phi Beta Kappa

1984

Alpha Omega Alpha

1984

Merck Manual Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement

1990

American College of Rheumatology Senior Rheumatology Scholar

1992 to 1996

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1995

Leukemia Society of America Scholar

Table of Contents

Early Years and College
1

Family background. Enjoys athletics in high school and college. Decides not to attend Bronx High School of Science. The economic diversity of Queens. Parental expectations that Rothman would attend an Ivy League school. Enjoys problem solving in math and science. Jewish cultural background. Enters Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). First year science curriculum at MIT. Rowing on the crew team. Living in a fraternity. Begins doing research inthe Graham C. Walker lab under the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Undergraduate life at MIT. Decides to pursue a medical degree in a research environment. The advantages of the M.D. degree over the M.D./Ph.D. for the clinician-researcher. Decides to attend Yale University School of Medicine. The problem-solving instructional approach at MIT and Yale.

Undergraduate Research, Medical School, and Postdoctoral Work
29

View of science as a problem solving activity. Acquires molecular techniques in Graham C. Walker's lab. Course work in immunology. Works in the Leonard Chess lab. Briefly considers a career as an orthopedic surgeon. Decides on a medical residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. The intellectual atmosphere at Yale medical school. Decides on rheumatology as a chemicalsubspecialty. Enters the Frederick W. Alt lab in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia as a postdoc. Begins work on interleukin-4 regulation of immunoglobulin class-switching. Collaborations with other scientists facilitates the IL-4 research. Advantages of a medical background for doing research. Accepts a position at Columbia University. Collaborationwith Christian Schindler on cytokine signaling.

Research, Clinical Responsibilities, and Thoughts about Science
56

Projects that focus on the role of cytokines in lymphocyte development. Deciding which research directions to pursue. Lab management. Desire to study lung cancer. Difference between creativity and problem-solving ability in the practice of science. Clinical rheumatology responsibilities at Columbia. Teachingimmunology. Funding. Study sections. Publishing. Basic research. Interface between the pharmaceutical industry and academic research. Balancing career and family.

Index
98

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan