Po-Lin So, PhD, is a project manager and staff research scientist in the laboratory of Bruce Conklin, MD. She joined Gladstone in 2011 after earning her PhD in developmental biology and carrying out research in translational biology at several institutions in London and the San Francisco Bay Area.


What brought you to Gladstone?

I first heard of Gladstone when I crossed over the pond from London, England, to take up postdoctoral research in cancer biology at the University of California, San Francisco. At the time, our lab was at San Francisco General Hospital, and the Gladstone Institutes was our neighbor. I visited Gladstone often to use equipment and talk to researchers. It always seemed to be a great place to work. Some years later—after Shinya Yamanaka and Kazu Takahashi invented human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, and research with human stem cells was in full flow—I had the opportunity to work at Gladstone as a project manager with Bruce Conklin. Gladstone was a great fit for me, especially with its background in developmental and translational biology and Bruce’s research focus on cutting-edge technologies to model genetic disease and find novel therapies for treating them. We are certainly at an exciting time in biomedical research at Gladstone.

What do you like about Gladstone?

I enjoy the interaction and communication between scientists and non-scientists alike. Gladstone, as a whole, is an energetic, interactive environment to do great science. There is always an opportunity to attend really interesting scientific talks from all the Institutes and participate in Gladstone community events, such as charity walks, bake-sale fundraisers, student outreach programs, and so on. Also, as a scientist, having the support of the scientific cores, the purchasing, information technology, and editorial departments, and more, is a huge plus, especially for someone who has worked at other institutions where you have to do almost everything by yourself. There is also a general friendliness associated with Gladstone, which I appreciate, as well as its recent efforts to be more progressive, diverse, and inclusive.

Were you interested in science as a child?

Yes. From a young age, I was a curious child and loved to learn. During elementary school, I remember learning about dinosaurs and modern day animals, and I was fascinated by all the specialized traits that animals possess to survive in their natural environments. In secondary school, I became interested in how certain human traits were passed from parent to offspring. In a child development class that many girls took, we had to submit an essay on a topic related to the class. While others wrote about children’s parties and play, I wrote about genetic inheritance. With the help of the few books I found on heredity in our small town library (pre-internet), I composed an essay on basic Mendelian inheritance, in which I discussed why some children in a family develop a disease and others do not. After that, I realized I wanted to study biology, in particular genetics, at a university.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school?

After I received my bachelor’s degree in genetics, I was still interested in biology and wanted to continue to study molecular and developmental biology. So, I applied and was accepted into a PhD program in developmental biology at the Randall Institute at King’s College in London. It was a great scientific environment to be a part of, where eminent developmental biologists, such as Sir John Gurdon, would visit frequently to give talks. On the other floors of the Institute, there would be different fields of research, such as immunology, chromatin biology, muscle biology, and biophysics. Occasionally, retired faculty members, such as Maurice Wilkins (technically retired at the time) would make an appearance. In some ways, the Randall Institute, at that time, was very similar to Gladstone with regards to its overall interdisciplinary research program.

What or who influenced your decision to work in science?

Perhaps my strongest influence to be a scientist was my father. He had the notion that science was important and well respected, and, thus, a good profession to pursue. As children, my siblings and I were encouraged to be interested in science. We spent countless hours as a family watching nature shows and re-runs of the original Star Trek on TV. We also watched another TV show called Tomorrow’s World, which highlighted novel technologies and inventions, such as the compact disc. My father’s enthusiasm and encouragement for his children to pursue a career in scientific research worked, because my sister, brother, and I all have PhDs in science and are still working in science, albeit in different fields.

What do you do when you are not working in the lab?

When I am not working in the lab, I spend much of my time doing typical family things, like taking my 6-year-old daughter to her soccer games and to the zoo, which she loves. Also, we regularly go on walks along the scenic Pacifica coastline with our energetic, 100-pound-plus Bernese mountain dog. I also volunteer for the parent-teacher organization at my daughter’s school.  On the occasion that I have time to myself, I love to catch up on the latest movies. In the past year, I enjoyed a variety of movies, including Star Trek Beyond (of course!), In The Heart of the Sea (the real Moby Dick story), and The Danish Girl, to name a few.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?

I would like to learn how to do a lot of things, like how to play tennis properly, program, build a house, start a company, or write a best-selling spy thriller. A more mundane, but attainable, goal would be to master the skill of making Cantonese-style roast duck. Sounds straightforward, but it’s not that easy to perfect.

What is your hidden/unique talent?

I can’t say I have any hidden/unique talent. When I was younger, I had quick reflexes that served me well during my stint competing for the University of London in the British Universities’ Karate Competitions. We were very successful, winning the British Universities League and Championships several times as a team and as individuals.

Name one thing that not many people know about you.

I have had a total of ‘two-and-a-half’ citizenships. First, I was born in Hong Kong when it was a British oversees territory, and we were technically not full British citizens. Then, I gained citizenship in Great Britain during the good-old years, when higher education was free to most people (thank you, Great Britain), and it was still a happy, jolly member of the European Union. More recently (just a month ago), I became a United States citizen. To celebrate my newly adopted country, I am psyching myself up to try a few national delicacies: a corn dog, a root beer float, and a Bud Lite.

If you could meet any scientist from any point in time, who would it be and why?

Leonardo da Vinci, the ultimate all-rounder. I have had the good fortune to see a few of his original works and have visited a couple of exhibitions in London and San Francisco showcasing his amazing scientific designs and inventions. The breadth of his talent in both science and the arts and his level of creativity and productivity are truly inspiring. 

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