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Michael R. Koelle

  • Born: February 18, 1964, Los Alamos, NM, USA

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0521
Interview Dates: 6, 7, and 8 January 2003
Location: Yale University, School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA
Interviewer: William Van Benschoten
No. of pages: 120
Minutes: 393
Sponsor: The Pew Charitable Trusts
The Pew Charitable Trusts

  Abstract of Interview

Michael R. Koelle was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico but was raised mainly in Seattle, Washington, the youngest of the family’s three children.  Both of his parents were German emigrants (his father as an infant, his mother during the 1930s).  Koelle’s father worked as an electrical engineer in Los Alamos until the age of fifty when he started his own business focused on electronic identification technologies; his mother raised the children on her own in Seattle while working as a special education teacher.  Koelle’s older brother, who studied medicine, encouraged Koelle to study science; Koelle was also very interested in pursuing music.  

His first laboratory experiences were during high school when he had the opportunity to work in the labs of Barbara L. and Stephen M. Schwartz at the University of Washington, Seattle.  After completing high school he attended the University of Washington where he majored in biochemistry (after taking a course on recombinant DNA technology) and worked in Theodore Young’s laboratory in his junior year.  Deciding to continue his study of biochemistry, Koelle pursued his doctoral degree at Stanford University with David Hogness, working on hormonal controlled development and the ecdysone hormone receptor.  Following the completion of his Ph.D., Koelle undertook post-doctoral research on the genes involved in neural function and on the mechanics of neurotransmission with H. Robert Horvitz at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He then accepted a position at Yale University, focusing his research on G protein signaling and regulation and planning to expand his research on the molecular mechanisms of neurotransmission as a means of studying embryogenesis.

Koelle spends much of the interview talking about the multiple duties of an academic scientist, like teaching, lab and research administration, mentoring, and participating in professional duties, and about his views on the practice of science in contemporary society, like, the issue of patenting intellectual property, the privatization of scientific research, competition and collaboration in science, the national scientific agenda, and educating the public.  The interview ends with his thoughts on the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences and its role in his own research and scientific research generally.


1986 B.S., Mathematics and Biology, University of Washington
1992 Ph.D., Biochemistry, Stanford University

  Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1992 - 1996

Postdoctoral Fellow, Laboratory of Dr. H. Robert Horvitz

Yale University, School of Medicine

1996 - 2001

Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry

Yale University, School of Medicine

2001 - 2005

Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry

Yale University, School of Medicine

2005 - Present

Tenured Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry


1986 - 1989

NSF Predoctoral Fellowship

1992 - 1995

Helen Hay Whitney Foundation postdoctoral fellowship

1995 - 1996

Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship, The Medical Foundation

1997 - 2001

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

1999 - 2004

Leukemia Society Scholar


Dylan Hixon ‘88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences at Yale

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Family Life 1

Family background.  Parents.  Siblings.  Childhood experiences.  Interest in music. Early interest in science.  Mathematics courses during high school and college Reasons for pursuing a career in science.  Creativity in science.

High School Research, College, and Graduate School 26

Works in Barbara L. Schwartz’s and Stephen M. Schwartz’s laboratories during high school.  Attends the University of Washington.  Works in E. Theodore Young’s laboratory during his junior year.  Influential teachers.  Majors in biochemistry after taking a class in recombinant DNA technology.  Knowing the evolution of ideas in a scientific field.  College life.  Attends Stanford University
for his doctoral studies.  Graduate program at Stanford.  Arthur Kornberg.  Biochemistry department at Stanford.  Chooses David S. Hogness’s laboratory for his thesis project.  Hogness laboratory. Doctoral work on hormonal-controlled development and the hormone receptor for ecdysone.  Hogness’s laboratory management style.  Significance of Koelle’s work.

Postdoctoral Work at MIT and Current Research 39

Religion.  Postdoctoral fellowship in H. Robert Horvitz’s laboratory atMassachusetts Institute of Technology.  Horvitz’s management style. A typical day in Horvitz’s laboratory.  Research on the genes involved in neural function and on the mechanics of neurotransmission. Broader applications of his work.  Multimodal approach to problem solving.  Broader applications of work.  Current
research on G protein signaling and its regulation to study the mechanism of neurotransmission.  Accepts a position at Yale University.  Reasons for choosing to work at Yale.  Setting up lab.  Research grants.  Meets his future wife.  

Life Inside and Outside of the Lab 74

Parental expectations.  Serendipity.  Role in the lab.  Teaching responsibilities.  Travel commitments.  Administrative duties.  Funding history.  Funding.  Writing journal articles.  Laboratory management style.  Running his laboratory.  Professional community.  Tenure.  Balancing family and career.  Leisure activities. A typical workday.  Success in achieving professional goals.  Qualities of a good scientist.  Future research on the molecular mechanisms of neurotransmission and of controlled cell division in embryogenesis.  Patents.  Intellectual property.  Privatization of scientific research.  Reasons for becoming a principal investigator.

Final Thoughts 99

Criteria for choosing research projects.  Role of the scientist in educating the public about science.  National scientific agenda.  Gender.   Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index 118

  About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten

No further information currently available.

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