Erin Schuman

Born: May 15, 1963 | San Gabriel, CA, US

Erin M. Schuman was born in San Gabriel, California. She attended University of Southern California, initially interested in law. She switched to psychology and completed an an honors thesis with Laura Baker studying memory in twins. She decided to attend graduate school at Princeton because of Joseph Farley's work on learning in memory using invertebrate systems. She followed Farley to Indiana University, but returned to Princeton to complete her thesis. She then accepted a postdoctoral position at the Daniel V. Madison laboratory at Stanford studying long-term neuronal potentiation, culminating in a series of papers on synaptic transmission (two of which appeared in Science). Schuman then accepted a position at California Institute of Technology, studying decentralized production of proteins at the dendrites and synaptic feedback mechanisms and cadherins.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0585
No. of pages: 106
Minutes: 242

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
12, 19, 26 April and 17 May 2000

Abstract of Interview

Erin M. Schuman was born in San Gabriel, California, though spent most of her childhood in Huntington Beach, the oldest of three siblings; her mother was a teacher at a Catholic school. She was a "serial hobbyist" with interests in painting, softball, dancing, and reading and she attended Catholic schools from the time she was a teenager. Schuman matriculated at the University of Southern California (USC), initially interested in pursuing law and deciding to major in political science, but ultimately switching her major to psychology. She worked regularly as an undergraduate, including stints as a waitress, though found the time to complete an honors thesis with Laura Baker studying memory in twins. She decided to go to graduate school for her doctoral studies, having to choose between the University of California, Irvine and Princeton University, ultimately selecting the latter because of Joseph Farley's work on learning in memory using invertebrate systems. She followed Farley to Indiana University when he left, though returned to Princeton to complete her thesis in Gregory A. Clark's lab. She then accepted a postdoctoral position at the Daniel V. Madison laboratory at Stanford University studying long-term neuronal potentiation, culminating in a series of papers on synaptic transmission (two of which appeared in Science). From there Schuman accepted a position at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), studying decentralized production of proteins at the dendrites and, more recently, synaptic feedback mechanisms and cadherins, and having the opportunity to collaborate with Masatoshi Takeichi and Norman A. Davidson. The interview concludes with Schuman discussing the advantages and disadvantages of competition in science; the issue of accountability to those who fund scientific research; sexism; the article-writing process; co-teaching courses with her husband, Gilles Jean Laurent; and balancing family and career.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1985 University of Southern California BA Psychology
1990 Princeton University PhD Neuroscience

Professional Experience

Princeton University

1990
Postdoctoral Fellow

Stanford University

1990 to 1993
Postdoctoral Fellow

California Institute of Technology

1993 to 1999
Assistant Professor
1999 to 2001
Associate Professor

University of California, Los Angeles

1997 to 1999
Adjunct Assistant Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1994 to 1996

Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow

1994 to 1998

John Merck Scholar

1995 to 1999

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1995

American Association of University Women Emerging Scholar

1997

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Assistant Investigator

Table of Contents

Childhood and College
1

Family background. Early schooling and interests. Mother's career as a teacher. Siblings. Influential teachers. Attends University of Southern California (USC). Stepfather. Religion. Roommates while attending USC. Memorable classes. Changes major to psychology. Undertakes a study on memory in twins. Works in Laura Baker's lab as an undergraduate-. Interest in New Wave music. Stint as a waitress. Parents' divorce. Influential college teachers.

Graduate School and Postdoctoral Work
26

Pursues graduate research at Princeton University. Social life at Princeton. Enters the Joseph Farley laboratory. Project on Hermissenda crassicornus. Summer at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Returns to Princeton to finish her Ph.D. Attends a Gordon Research Conference. Completion of her doctoral thesis. Postdoc position at the Daniel V. Madison laboratory at Stanford University. Working in the Madison laboratory. Studies long-term neuronal Potentiation. Series of papers on synaptic transmission via nitric oxide.

Faculty Years
42

Job talk for a position at California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Accepts a principal investigator (PI) position at Caltech. Opts to remain at the Madison laboratory for one more year. An interesting finding in Hermissenda crassicornus during her postdoc at Princeton. Reaction to having two papers published in Science. Reasons for declining a prestigious award. Tenure process at Caltech. Style of conducting science. Study of decentralized production of proteins at the dendrites. Recent work on synaptic feedback mechanisms and cadherins. Masatoshi Takeichiand cadherin research. Collaboration with Norman A. Davidson. Current and future research using electrophysiology and green fluorescent protein. Sexism and science.

Scientific Career
71

Setting up her laboratory at Caltech. Laboratory management style. Article-writing process. Administrative duties. Typical workday. Teaching responsibilities. Co-teaching courses with her husband, Gilles Jean Laurent. Laboratory's personnel. Balancing family and career. Her daughter. Division of household tasks. Leisure activities.

Index
103

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten