John Sondek

Born: September 3, 1963 | Niagara Falls, NY, US

John Sondek grew up in Lewiston, New York. He took his first biochemistry class in high school, but his first research experience occurred during college at the University of Rochester, where he became very interested in biochemistry as a career. He attended graduate school at Johns Hopkins University with David Shortle, and then took a postdoctoral fellowship with Paul Sigler at Yale University. He found that Shortle and Sigler had different mentoring styles, both of which influenced his own. Sondek then accepted a position at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He discusses his obligation to provide service to his professional community and to promote the national science agenda, as well as his current research in the structural biology of signal transduction and practical applications of his work. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0621
No. of pages: 107
Minutes: 350

Interview Sessions

Karen A. Frenkel
27-29 March 2006
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Abstract of Interview

John Sondek grew up in Lewiston, New York, the fourth of five children. His father owned a grocery store, and his mother was a homemaker. Sondek worked hard on his schoolwork and liked all kinds of classes. He particularly remembers his chemistry and biology teachers as being enthusiastic and good. He took his first biochemistry class in high school and became fascinated with DNA manipulation. He also played football in high school.

Sondek's first research experience occurred during college at the University of Rochester, where he worked for Michael Hampsey in Fred Sherman's lab. Becoming more interested in biochemistry, he decided to pursue science as a career, and spent some time in the interview reflecting on the Sherman laboratory and Sondek's own early research experience.

He attended graduate school at Johns Hopkins University, where he rotated into David Shortle's laboratory to work on protein folding. Wanting to work on heterotrimeric proteins, Sondek accepted a postdoctoral fellowship with Paul Sigler at Yale University. He found that Shortle and Sigler had different mentoring styles, both of which influenced his own style of working with students in lab.

After his postdoc, Sondek accepted a position at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He continued his current research in signal transduction systems controlled by heterotrimeric G protein and he collaborated with T. Kendall Harden. During his time at Chapel Hill, Sondek received the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant, which had a large influence on his work.

As the interview concludes, Sondek gives his views on his obligation to provide service to his professional community and to promote the national science agenda. He goes into greater detail about his current research in the structural biology of signal transduction; the wider context of his work; and practical applications of his research. He describes what he likes best about being a principal investigator; the qualities of a good scientist; and the process of writing journal articles. He answers the interviewer's questions about the issue of patents, his in particular; gender issues in science; science and religion; politics and science; the role of the scientist in educating the public about science; and ethical questions in science. The interview ends with a discussion of Sondek's leisure activities; his professional and personal goals; and the difficulty of balancing family life and work life. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1985 University of Rochester BS Biochemistry
1992 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine PhD Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology

Professional Experience

Yale University

1993 to 1996
Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Fellow

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

1996 to 2002
Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry
2002 to 2006
Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry
2006 to 2008
Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry

UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

1998 to 2008
Member

Honors

Year(s) Award
1981 to 1985

Regents Scholarship, State of New York

1981 to 1985

Centennial Prize Scholarship, University of Rochester

1985 to 1986

NIH Predoctoral Fellowship, Johns Hopkins University

1989 to 1992

Predoctoral Fellowship, Institute for Biophysical Research on Macromolecular Assemblies, Johns Hopkins University

1991 to 1992

Institutional Research Grant, Johns Hopkins University

1993 to 1996

Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Fellowship

1999 to 2003

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Childhood, College, and Graduate School
1

Family background. Childhood experiences. Religion. Interests as a young man. Influential teachers. Attending high school in Lewiston, New York. Extracurricular activities. Parental expectations. Meets yeast geneticist Fred Sherman. First research experience working for Michael Hampsey during college. Interest in biochemistry. Attends the University of Rochester. College experiences. Decision to pursue science. Sherman's laboratory. Writing journal articles. Attends graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. Rotations in graduate program at Johns Hopkins. Work on protein folding in David Shortle's laboratory. Patents.

Postdoctoral Work and Becoming a Principal Investigator
37

Postdoctoral fellowship with Paul B. Sigler at Yale University. Reasons for wanting to work in the Sigler lab. Shortle's mentoring style. Sigler's mentoring style. Competition in science. Mentoring style. Funding history. Accepts a position at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Current research in signaltransduction systems controlled by heterotrimeric G proteins. Collaboration with T. Kendall Harden. Reasons for becoming a principal investigator. Practical applications of research. Setting up lab. Reasons for accepting the position at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. Role in educating the public about science. Process of funding individual research grants from the National Institutes of Health. Service to professional community. National science agenda.

Current Research and Reflections on Science
64

More on current research in the structural biology of signal transduction. Wider context of work. Qualities of a good scientist. Writing journal articles. Patents. Gender. Science and religion. Politics and science. Role of the scientist in educating the public about science. Ethical questions in science. Peer-review system for journal articles. Balancing family and career. Leisure activities. Professional and personal goals.

Index
104

About the Interviewer

Karen A. Frenkel

Karen A. Frenkel is a writer, documentary producer, and author specializing in science and technology and their impacts on society. She wrote Robots: Machines in Man’s Image (Harmony 1985) with Isaac Asimov. Her articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers including The New York TimesCyberTimesBusiness Week, Communications Magazine, DiscoverForbesNew Media, Personal Computing, Scientific American, Scientific American MIND, The Village Voice, and Technology Review. Ms. Frenkel’s award-winning documentary films, Net Learning and Minerva’s Machine: Women and Computing aired on Public Television. She has been an interviewer for Columbia University’s Oral History Research Center’s 9/11 Narrative and Memory project, The National Press Foundation’s Oral History of Women in Journalism, and the International Psychoanalytic Institute for Training and Research’s Oral History. Professional memberships include: The Authors Guild, National Association of Science Writers, Writer’s Guild of America East, and New York Women in Film and Television: Past Member of the Board and Director of Programming. Her website is www.Karenafrenkel.com.