Yixian Zheng

Born: December 31, 1969 | Chongqing, CN

Yixian Zheng was born in Chongqing, China. She went to school on the campus of Chongqing University, where her parents were faculty. The end of the Cultural Revolution brought about a radical change in Zheng's education. She entered Sichuan University and soon became interested in cell biology. Encouraged by her father, who was a visiting professor at University of Akron, Zheng applied to Ohio State University's graduate program. She worked in Berl R. Oakley's laboratory; her graduate thesis focused on gamma tubulin and centrosome function. Zheng took a postdoc in Bruce Alberts's laboratory at University of California, San Francisco, where she continued research on centrosome function and purification of the gamma tubulin complex. She then accepted a position at the Carnegie Institute, where she is today.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0601
No. of pages: 91
Minutes: 283

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
9-11 September 2003
Carnegie Institution of Washington, Baltimore, Maryland

Abstract of Interview

Yixian Zheng was born and raised in Chongqing, the Sichuan province of China, the elder (by about nine years) of the family's two daughters. Both of her parents were professors at Chongqing University—her mother in metallurgy and her father in mechanical engineering—her extended family members were, predominantly, farmers and other tradesmen. She went to elementary school on the campus of Chongqing University with dreams of becoming a writer like her father had been before settling into engineering. The end of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s brought about a radical change in Zheng's education as there was much competition to get into college; ultimately she decided to pursue science and technology instead of writing as a career path. She entered Sichuan University in Chengdu intent on studying biology, which, at the time, had more of a relationship, in her mind, to forestry and being outdoors. While there, Zheng was very active in extracurricular activities and became interested in cell biology after taking a course with an influential professor, Wenshi Pan. When she had not made a decision on her plans after graduation, Zheng went to work for Southwestern Agricultural University in Chongqing as an instructor for two years. Upon encouragement from her father, who, at the time, was a visiting professor in the United States at the University of Akron in Ohio, Zheng took the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and then applied for admission to Ohio State University's graduate program. After being accepted, she worked in Berl R. Oakley's laboratory and determined that science was her calling; her graduate thesis focused on gamma tubulin and centrosome function. Zheng completed her doctorate and took a postdoctoral position in Bruce Alberts's laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco, where she continued research on centrosome function and purification of the gamma tubulin complex. Zheng and her husband, Max Q. B. Guo, who was also a scientist, then had to deal with the two-body problem; Zheng accepted a position at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Baltimore, Maryland and her husband came along to finish his postdoctoral research. At the Carnegie Institute, her research on microtubules led to a collaboration with Douglas E. Koshland. At the end of the interview, Zheng speaks about her greatest strengths in research; the manner in which she sets research priorities; and her future research. Additionally, she discusses issues such as competition in science, generating new research ideas, and the qualities of a good science. Both technology and the choice of her model system have influenced her research, and Zheng explores both factors at length. She also talks about other aspects of being a principal investigator, including her research process, tenure, grants, teaching, and balancing family with career. Lastly, Zheng discusses the impact the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences has had on her work.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1984 Sichuan University BS Biology
1992 Ohio State University PhD Molecular Genetics

Professional Experience

University of California, San Francisco

1992 to 1996
Postdoctoral Fellow

Southwestern Agricultural University

1984 to 1987
Lecturer

Johns Hopkins University

1996 to 2002
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Biology
2000 to 2002

Carnegie Institution of Washington

1996
Staff Member, Department of Embryology

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

2000 to 2002
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
2000 to 2002
Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

2000
HHMI Investigator

Honors

Year(s) Award
1997 to 2001

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

1997 to 2006

NIH R01 Research Grants (Awarded by NIGMS)

1999

Women in Cell Biology Award, the American Society for Cell Biology

2000

HHMI Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institution

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Parents. Sister. Interest in writing. Schooling inChongqing, China. Religion. The Cultural Revolution in China. Collegeentrance examination in China.

College and Graduate Years
29

Decision to pursue science rather than writing. Biology at Sichuan University in Chengdu. Instructor at Southwestern Agricultural University. Ohio State University for graduate school. Berl R. Oakley. Columbus, Ohio. Meets her future husband. Doctoral research on gamma tubulin and centrosome function. Oakley's mentoring style. Graduate school in the United States. Her husband.

Postdoctoral and Faculty Years
38

Bruce Alberts laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco. Work on centrosome assembly and purification of the gamma tubulin complex. Accepts a position at Carnegie Institution of Washington. Research on microtubules: structural organization of the gamma tubulin complex, regulation of its centrosome-binding activity, and spindle assembly and disassembly during mitosis. Collaboration with Douglas E. Koshland. Generating new research ideas. Mentoring style.

Reflections on Science and Final Thoughts
56

The importance of model systems. Funding history. Tenure at Carnegie Institution of Washington. Laboratory management style. The peer review system in the grant-funding process. Teaching responsibilities. Balancing family and career. Gender issues in science. Ethical questions in science. Practical applications of research. Impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the BiomedicalSciences grant.

Index
89

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan