Thomas F. Schilling
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Thomas F. Schilling was born in Richmond, Virginia, the oldest of four children. His father was a forester turned Presbyterian minister, his mother a housewife. When Schilling was about five his family lived in New Haven, Connecticut, for two years while his father attended Yale Divinity School. While there, Schilling spent many days at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, giving latecomers tours of dinosaurs. In addition to dinosaurs, he loved reptiles and amphibians, but especially snakes. After Yale, the family moved to North Carolina, where they stayed until Schilling was in junior high school, at which time they moved to a small town in West Virginia. Schilling did not find his education compelling and did not apply himself until he entered college. Because his parents wanted him to have a solid liberal arts foundation and thought a small college the best place to get it, Schilling matriculated into Presbyterian-affiliated Davidson College, majoring in biology. Halfway through he changed his career plan from medicine to academics. He developed an interest in the philosophy and sociology of science; undertook hospital work for class credit; and spent summers working and playing at Yellowstone National Park. Schilling found that a class in physiological psychology led to an interest in neuroscience and so he applied to neuroscience graduate programs. Despite the lack of research lab experience at Davidson, Schilling gained acceptance into the PhD program in the University of Michigan biology department. Unpleasant faculty in the department and low morale caused the exit of nearly everyone in his entering class. Ultimately he joined the laboratory of R. Glenn Northcutt to study the neuroanatomy of the visual system. Northcutt left for the University of California, San Diego, and Schilling found a new interest in zebrafish. A chance discussion with Russell Fernald at a meeting led Schilling to apply to the PhD program at the University of Oregon and take a master's degree at Michigan. At that time, only two labs were working with zebrafish, Monte Westerfield's and Charles Kimmel's. Schilling chose Kimmel's lab because he wanted to work on neural crest, and neural crest lineages in zebrafish became his dissertation topic. Schilling accepted a postdoc at Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, England, where he entered Philip Ingham's lab to study Drosophila and to help set up a zebrafish lab. Soon after his arrival in London, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard called Schilling and asked him to work at the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen, Germany, on craniofacial anomalies in zebrafish. After some time in Germany, he returned to London, where he spent several years in Ingham's lab. Schilling rediscovered his interest in neural crest, but he also discovered a mutation in the enzyme that synthesizes retinoic acid (RA), and RA became the second major focus of his lab. After an initial refusal, Schilling received a Wellcome Foundation grant, with Nigel Holder as his sponsor. During this time, however, Schilling also accepted an assistant professorship at University of California, Irvine. At that point he received two NIH grants, one for retinoic acid and one for his craniofacial work. At the end of the interview, Schilling discusses funding in general, and the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant specifically; he also compares the Wellcome grant with National Institutes of Health and other American grants. He praises the Pew meetings; he compares his Pew talk with other talks he has given; and he talks more about funding generally and about the effects of the funding situation on collegiality and competitiveness in labs and departments. He discusses his love of traveling and of outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, fishing, and biking. He goes on to reflect on benchwork, on his mentoring style, which he sees as engaged and helpful, and on the necessity of informing the public about scientific endeavors, which he believes is necessary but difficult. He talks a little more about publishing and study sections, recounting a story of encouragement for one of his students. He ends the interview with his thoughts about animal rights organizations and university oversight of animal research.
|1987||University of Michigan||MS||Neurobiology|
|1993||University of Oregon||PhD||Developmental Biology|
Imperial Cancer Research Fund
University College London
University of California, Irvine
|1987 to 1993||
Neuroscience and Genetics Training Fellowships (NIH)
EMBO Short Term Postdoctoral Fellowship
|1994 to 1995||
Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) Postdoctoral Fellowship
|1995 to 1997||
Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP) Postdoctoral Fellowship
|1998 to 2002||
Medical Research Council (MRC) Career Development Fellowship
|1998 to 2002||
Wellcome Research Career Development Fellowship
|2001 to 2005||
Pew Scholarship in the Biomedical Sciences
|2001 to 2007||
March of Dimes 1-FY01-198 Research Grant
|2001 to 2009||
NIH R01 NS41353-01 Research Grant (renewed in 2006)
|2001 to 2009||
NIH R01 DE13828-01 Research Grant (renewed in 2006)
Table of Contents
Lived in Virginia; then in North Carolina. Moved to West Virginia when in junior high school. Family background. Schools. Father a Presbyterian minister and ex-forester. Always interested in science. Loved animals, especially dinosaurs,snakes, and other reptiles. Lived surrounded by woods and creeks.
Matriculated into Davidson College, majoring in biology. Parents insisted on small liberal arts education. Originally thought he would go into medicine but changed to academics. Lack of research labs at Davidson. Life and classes in a small college in a small town. Interest in philosophy and sociology of science. Hospital work. Summer work and play at Yellowstone National Park.
Entered University of Michigan biology department. Required to be teaching assistant. Faculty in department; morale. Exit of his entire entering class. Class in physical psychology led to interest in neuroscience. Master's thesis work on neuroanatomy of visual system with R. Glenn Northcutt. Northcutt left for University of California, San Diego. Schilling remained to finish work. Zebrafish. Scientists' understanding of anatomy. Quality of pictures in journals.
Interest in zebrafish led Schilling to University of Oregon to complete PhD. Met Russell Fernald. Developmental neurobiology. Only two labs working with zebrafish. Rotations. Chose Charles Kimmel's lab. Mauthner neuron. Settled on research into neural crest. Segmentalism. Rhombomeres. Comparing fly genes with human genes. Names for phenotypes. Clinical relevance of neural crest. Cleft palate. Brain sutures. Craniofacial syndromes. Ephrins. Neural crest lineages in zebrafish his dissertation topic. Other neural crest defects. Staging for zebrafish. Zebrafish book. Feeding and care of zebrafish. Kimmel's management and mentoring style. Lab environment.
Accepted postdoc at Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, England. Entered Philip Ingham's lab to study Drosophila and to help set up zebrafish lab. Uncertainty over zebrafish as model system. Segment polarity in flies. Polyploid cells. Development of in situ zebrafish protocols. Spent six months at Max Planck Institute in Tübingen, Germany, working on craniofacial anomalies in zebrafish in Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard's lab. Several years in Ingham's lab. Interested again in neural crest. Also discovered mutation in enzyme that synthesizes retinoic acid (RA); RA became second focus of lab. Hindbrain disruption. Wellcome Foundation grant.
Discussion of funding. Backup plan. Wellcome grant compared with National Institutes of Health and other American grants. Difficulty getting Wellcome grant. Nigel Holder his sponsor. Accepted assistant professorship at University of California, Irvine. Received NIH grants for retinoic acid and craniofacial work. Discussion of grant-writing in general, Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant specifically. Pew meetings. His Pew talk, compared with other talks. More about funding generally. Effects of funding situation on collegiality and competitiveness in labs and departments. Outdoor activities, travel. Biking to work. Benchwork. His mentoring style. Informing public necessary but difficult. More about publishing. Chemokines. Morpholinos. Animal rights organizations and university oversight.