Michael D. Sheets

Born: December 31, 1969 | West Lafayette, IN, US
Photograph of Michael D. Sheets

Michael D. Sheets was born in West Lafayette, Indiana. In undergrad, he did not see a clear science path, but a counselor encouraged him to get lab experience. Excited by molecular biology, he applied to the University of Wisconsin because they could provide a good general science education. There Michael worked on polyadenylation of RNA in Marvin Wickens's lab. Sheets accepted a postdoc at University of California, Berkeley, working in John Gerhart's laboratory, where he developed an antibody library for studying gene function during frog development. Today, Sheets continues his research at University of Wisconsin on regulating gene expression in vertebrate development. He works at the bench, teaches, writes grant proposals and journal articles, and ponders the applicability of his research for clinical use.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0603
No. of pages: 104
Minutes: 350

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
29-30 March 2004
University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin

Abstract of Interview

Michael D. Sheets, the oldest of three children, was born in West Lafayette, Indiana, while his father was studying at Purdue University. When Michael was about five, his father moved the family to East Lansing, Michigan, so that he (Michael's father) could obtain a master's degree; then they all moved back to a small town in Indiana; and the elder Sheets became a teacher of science and of industrial arts in high school. Sheets' mother had an associate's degree in accounting but chose to stay at home with her children. They lived on a very small farm, with a few animals and a large vegetable garden, and they were involved with 4H. Sheets liked to read; the family subscribed to the Time-Life Series of books, and their grandmother had a wall filled with National Geographics, both of which further increased his interests. Sheets entered Purdue unsure just what he would study. Though he was interested in many of the sciences, he did not see a clear science path in the same way that he saw certain pre-professional options, but a counselor encouraged him to get lab experience, so he worked in Morris Levy's plant ecology lab his freshman year. After that year he switched to a chicken lab where he worked on gene expression. Excited by molecular biology but still not certain where to go to graduate school, he took Brian Larkins's advice and applied to the University of Wisconsin because they could provide a good general science education, as well as illuminating the many possibilities in science. There Michael worked on polyadenylation of RNA in Marvin Wickens's lab. He stayed in Wickens's lab for an extra two-year postdoc. He also met his future wife, Catherine Fox, in Wickens's lab, and they married just before going off to their postdocs. Sheets accepted a postdoc at University of California at Berkeley, working in John Gerhart's laboratory, where he developed an antibody library for studying gene function during frog development. From Berkeley Michael and his wife had to find jobs at the same institution; the University of Wisconsin was their choice, as they love both the school and Madison, Wisconsin. Today, Sheets continues his research on regulating gene expression in vertebrate development. He works at the bench, teaches, writes grant proposals and journal articles, and ponders the applicability of his research for clinical use. In addition, he and his wife have recently adopted a young son. Balancing work life and family life in a two-scientist family is difficult at best, but with his son's appearance, this balancing has become ever more complicated, though far more rewarding.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1982 Purdue University BS
1989 University of Wisconsin, Madison PhD

Professional Experience

University of Wisconsin, Madison

1990 to 1992
Postdoctoral Fellow
1996 to 2006
Associate Professor, Biomolecular Chemistry

University of California, Berkeley

1992 to 1996
Postdoctoral Fellow

Honors

Year(s) Award
1995

American Cancer Society Fellow

1997

March of Dimes Basil O'Connor Scholar

1998 to 2002

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1998

Beckman Young Investigator Award

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family. Experiences and interests as a boy. Early schooling. Influential elementary school teachers. Sheets's junior high school experiences. His school science projects. High School. Extracurricular activities. Parental expectations.

College Years
15

Attends Purdue University. Works in Dr. Morris Levy's plant ecology laboratory during freshman year. His decision to pursue basic research. College experiences.

Graduate Years
33

Enters graduate school at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Works in Marvin Wickens's lab on developmental biology on polyadenylation of RNA. Meets his wife, Catherine Fox, in the lab. They marry just before leaving for postdocs.

Postgraduate Years
39

His postdoctoral fellowship in John Gerhart's laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. In Gerhart's laboratory develops an antibody library for studying gene function during frog development. Gerhart's management style. The process of writing journal articles.

Faculty Years
48

Accepts a position at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Setting up his laboratory. Funding history. His wife's career. Tenure. The grant-writing process. Creativity in science. Sheets's current research on regulating gene expression in early development. His professional goals. Sheets's laboratory management style. Practical applications of his research. Competition and collaboration in science. Advantages and disadvantages of having a two-scientist family. Sheets's role in the lab. Administrative duties. Teachingresponsibilities. Travel commitments. A typical workday. Patents Role of the scientist in public policy. Gender issues in science. Ethnic issues in science. Impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award on his research.

Index
102

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten