Thomas E. Wilson

Born: October 19, 1965 | Parma, OH, US
Photograph of Thomas E. Wilson

Thomas E. Wilson grew up in Neenah, Wisconsin. While his father, a chemical engineer, often brought work-related discussions home, his mother, a teacher, also encouraged the academic environment of the household. During undergrad, Wilson was involved in the Medical Scholars Program, pursued biology research with Charles B. Kaspar, and built musical instruments. He then decided upon a MD/PhD program at Washington University in St. Louis, where he could continue his interest in medicine but pursue a laboratory research program as well. Joining Jeffrey D. Milbrant's laboratory, Wilson undertook a DNA binding project that allowed him to collaborate with yeast geneticist Mark Johnston. After his residency and postdoc, Wilson joined the University of Michigan pathology department, which allows him laboratory opportunities while maintaining ties to the clinical world.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0404
No. of pages: 112
Minutes: 329

Interview Sessions

David J. Caruso
12-13 February 2008
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Abstract of Interview

Thomas E. Wilson's oral history begins with a discussion of his childhood in Neenah, Wisconsin where his father was a chemical engineer with Kimberley-Clark. While his father often brought work and work-related discussions home, his mother, a teacher, also encouraged the academic and inquisitive environment of the household. Nature activities, building projects, and music heavily influenced Wilson's childhood. Although there was brief interest in attending college to pursue a study of music, Wilson matriculated at the University of Wisconsin from which a number of his family members had graduated. During his undergraduate studies Wilson was involved in the Medical Scholars Program for pre-medical studies, pursued biology research with Charles B. Kaspar, and built musical instruments. The developing field of molecular biology and the excitement of research lessened Wilson's interest in pursuing the medical degree, however, Wilson decided upon a combined MD/PhD program at Washington University in St. Louis where he could continue his longstanding interest in medicine but pursue a laboratory research program as well. While Wilson acknowledges the flaws in combined programs, he still believes in the ideological and practical benefits of integrating the clinical and laboratory aspects of the two degrees. Joining Jeffrey D. Milbrant's laboratory for his PhD research, Wilson undertook a DNA binding project that allowed him to collaborate with yeast geneticist Mark Johnston. Wilson and his wife, who was also in the MD/PhD program at Washington University in St. Louis, started their family while still in graduate school, which changed the amount of time Wilson spent in the lab, but taught him an increased level of efficiency. Wilson experienced difficulty transitioning from the PhD program back to the clinical rotations of medical school, leading him to focus less on clinical work and more on research. He set his sights on pathology which enabled him to work with tissue in a medical context but not directly with patients. After earning his MD and PhD degrees, Wilson began his residency and post-doctoral research on DNA repair mechanisms with Michael R. Lieber. After Lieber moved to the University of Southern California, Wilson stayed at Washington University and used space in Milbrandt's lab in order to finish his work. He secured a position at the University of Michigan within the pathology department which would allow him ample laboratory opportunities while maintaining ties to the clinical world. Shortly after beginning as a principal investigator, Wilson earned the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award. Throughout the oral history interview Wilson discussed funding, balancing clinical and laboratory duties and work and family, and the public understanding of science.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1987 University of Wisconsin, Madison BS Biochemistry
1994 Washington University School of Medicine MD
1994 Washington University School of Medicine PhD Neural Sciences

Professional Experience

Washington University School of Medicine

1994 to 1999
Residency in Laboratory Medicine
1991 to 1994
Post-doctoral Fellow, Laboratory of Michael Lieber
1998 to 1999
Chief Resident, Laboratory Medicine

University of Michigan

1999 to 2006
Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology
2006
Associate Professor, Department of Pathology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1983 to 1984

Menasha Rotary Continuing Higher Education Scholarship

1983 to 1987

Medical Scholars Program, University of Wisconsin

1986

LR Ingersoll Prize in Physics, University of Wisconsin

1986

Knapp-Brittingham Honors Undergraduate Research Fellowship,
University of Wisconsin

1987

Letters and Science Honors Graduate, University of Wisconsin

1987 to 1994

Medical Scientist Training Program, Washington University School of
Medicine

1988

Lange Outstanding Medical Student Book Award, Washington University
School of Medicine

1988

Edmund V. Cowdry Prize in Histology, Washington University School of
Medicine

1989

McGraw Hill Outstanding Medical Student Book Award, Washington
University School of Medicine

1989 to 1993

Merck, Sharpe & Dohme Graduate Research Fellow

1993

Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Medical Scientist Fellow, Washington
University School of Medicine

1994

Alpha Omega Alpha

1994

Missouri State Medical Association Honors Graduate

1996 to 1999

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Physician Post-doctoral Fellow

1999

Biological Sciences Scholars Program, University of Michigan

2000 to 2004

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Growing up in Neenah, Wisconsin. Exposure to chemical engineering through Father's job at Kimberley-Clark. Importance of education. Family trips to Northern Wisconsin. Interest in music, science, and technology during high school. Influence of Catholicism.

Undergraduate Education
18

University of Wisconsin and family history. Medical Scholars Program and early acceptance to University of Wisconsin Medical School. Organic Chemistry class. Research with Charles B. Kasper and his graduate student Todd D. Porter. Development of molecular biology. Excitement of learning combined with discovery. Building musical instruments. Meeting his wife.

Graduate Education
36

Deciding to pursue an MD/PhD. Washington University in St. Louis. The joint degree program. Research with Jeffery D. Milbrandt. Collaboration with yeast geneticist Mark Johnston. Publishing. Scientific writing. Children and family life.

Medical Education
59

Transitioning to clinical studies. Pathology. Residency and post-doctoral research with Michael R. Lieber. Interest in molecular biology. Scientific ethics and fraud. Project on VDJ recombination. Lieber's move to University of Southern California. Working in Milbrandt's laboratory. Chief resident.

Principal Investigator
70

Academic job search. University of Michigan. Transferring his post-doctoral research to his own research. Difficulty in finding laboratory technicians and initial students. Basic research versus translational research. Pathway research.

The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences
87

Pew nomination. Annual Meetings. Pew Class of 2000. Alternate winner.

Funding and Time Commitments
92

Study Sections. Public understanding of science. Funding basic science. Teaching. Time commitments and work at the bench. Clinical duties. Grant writing. Interactions with students and scientific peers. Mentoring. Funding situation affecting students. Undergraduates in the laboratory.

Biomedical Science
103

Definition of biomedical science. Basic research. Government regulation of science.

Index
110

About the Interviewer

David J. Caruso

David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and editor for the Oral History Review. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds an annual training institute that focuses on conducting interviews with scientists and engineers, he consults on various oral history projects, like at the San Diego Technology Archives, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.  His current research interests are the discipline formation of biomedical science in 20th-century America and the organizational structures that have contributed to such formation.