Hong Sun

Born: 1958 | Beijing, CN
Portrait of Hong Sun

Hong Sun

Hong Sun was born in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution. This provided a chaotic education, including a year of re-education in the countryside and family separation. The return of the college admission program allowed Sun to pursue her interest in science at Beijing Medical College. She took part in the school's research program, studying the binding affinity of monoclonal antibodies against aflatoxin. Sun received first place in the China United States Biochemistry Examination and Admission (CUSBEA) program examination and attended Harvard University for her doctorate. There, she worked with Jack W. Szostak on the recombination process in meiosis. Next, she took a postdoctoral position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory with Nicholas K. Tonks, researching the protein tyrosine phosphatase and MKP-1. She is now at Yale University.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0524
No. of pages: 62
Minutes: 250

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
14-15 January 2003
Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut

Abstract of Interview

Hong Sun was born and raised in Beijing, China, during the Cultural Revolution, the older of two siblings. Both of her parents were physicians who, later in their careers, focused more on medical research than practice—her mother in pathology, her father in immunology. Life during the Revolution provided a "chaotic" education at times, including a year of re-education in the countryside at the end of high school, and also family separation (Sun's parents were sent to the countryside for several years for re-education, while Sun remained in Beijing under her grandmother's care). The rise of Deng Xiaoping to power after Chairman Mao brought a return of the college admission program, giving Sun the ability to develop and pursue her interest in science, attending Beijing Medical College, from which she received her medical degree. She also took part in the basic research program at the medical school, studying the binding affinity of monoclonal antibodies against aflatoxin for her thesis. Wanting to move more into research Sun received first place in the China United States Biochemistry Examination and Admission (CUSBEA) program examination and attended Harvard University for her doctoral study on the merits of its prestige, especially in the field of biomedical science. At Harvard, while adjusting to American culture, Sun worked with Jack W. Szostak on the recombination process in meiosis. From there she moved on to a postdoctoral position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York with Nicholas K. Tonks researching the protein tyrosine phosphatase and MKP-1—her husband, also a scientist, took a position there as well. Interested most by research, Sun sought out a position at a research university, and, along with her husband, took a position at Yale University. Throughout the interview, Sun compares various aspects of American and Chinese life and culture, including the educational systems and the practice of science. At the end of the interview she discusses her time at Yale, including setting up her laboratory, learning about the tenure process, teaching, and balancing her family and career; she notes as well that her recent research on protein tyrosine phosphatases and the mechanism of tumor formation has potential short-term and long-term applications in the areas of cancer research and aging. The interview concludes with Sun's reflections on gender issues in science; collaborations between industry and the academy; the impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences on her work; and changes she would make to improve the quality of science in the United States. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1982 Beijing Medical University BM
1991 Harvard University PhD

Professional Experience

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

1991 to 1995
Postdoctoral study

Yale University School of Medicine

1995 to 2005
Associate Professor, Department of Genetics

Honors

Year(s) Award
1983

First Place, CUSBEA Examination

1992

Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Postdoctoral Fellowship

1996 to 2000

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Award

2003 to 2007

American Cancer Society Research Scholar

Table of Contents

Early Years Through College
1

The Cultural Revolution in China. Family background. Parents. Brother. Childhood interests and experiences. Early schooling. The school system in China. Influential teachers. The college admission process. The impact of Chairman Mao Zedong's death. Service in the countryside after high school. Parental expectations.

Medical School and Graduate School Abroad
16

Admission to the basic research program at Beijing Medical School. The Chinese and American educational systems. Thesis project on the binding affinity of monoclonal antibodies against aflatoxin. The China United States Biochemistry Examination and Admission (CUSBEA) program to study abroad. Religion. Graduate school at Harvard University. Impressions of the United States. Doctoral research with Jack W. Szostak.

Postdoctoral and Faculty Years
29

Postdoctoral fellowship with Nicholas K. Tonks at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Her husband. Research on protein tyrosine phosphatase. The Tonks laboratory. Research on MKP-1. Accepts a position at Yale University. Setting up her lab. The tenure process at Yale. Her daughter. Balancing family andcareer. Sun's current research on protein tyrosine phosphatases and the mechanism of tumor formation, cancer, and aging.

Reflections on Science
42

China. Funding history. Writing journal articles. Laboratory management style. Leisure activities. Future research in the mechanism of tumor formation and aging. Patents. Privatization of research. The history of science and scientific progress. Competition and collaboration in science. Public policy issues. The role of the scientist in public policy. Gender issues in science. Collaborationsbetween industry and academia. Grant-writing process. The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index
61

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten