Like many first-year students, Myung Shin ’87 was undecided about his major when he arrived at Northwestern. He was initially drawn to political science, but his parents had other plans.
“They wanted me to go to medical school, but I didn’t know if that was right for me,” said Shin, who is a member of the University’s Chemistry of Life Processes Institute (CLP) Executive Advisory Board and serves as executive director and head of early discovery genetics at Merck & Co. “I always liked and did well in science, so I enrolled in the biochemistry molecular biology and cell biology program.”
Two years later, Shin decided to try research and asked Professor Rick Morimoto about opportunities in his lab. Morimoto, who had no space, suggested reaching out to Thomas O’Halloran, a new assistant professor with a joint appointment in chemistry and molecular biosciences. O’Halloran welcomed Shin into his lab, where he found his true calling.
“Having a faculty member take the time to mentor me and allow me to set up his research lab was an unbelievable experience,” Shin said. “It truly changed my life and helped me find what I really wanted to do. What excited me most about research was the ability to ask new questions, find new ways of doing things, and break new ground.”
Shin continued to work in O’Halloran’s lab for a year after graduating from Northwestern, an experience that solidified his desire to attend graduate school. Six years later, he earned his PhD in molecular biology from the University of California, Berkeley. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton University as a Jane Coffin Childs and HHMI Postdoctoral Fellow, Shin took a faculty position at Fox Chase Cancer Center in the cellular and developmental biology program. He joined Merck in 2004.
Today, Shin leads a unit at Merck that focuses on early discovery genetics. The department’s mission is to identify targets for drug discovery based on human genetics data. The group covers a number of different therapeutics areas, including cardiovascular and liver diseases; neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease; and age-related retinal diseases.
Shin also supports science and innovation at Northwestern as a member of the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute (CLP) Executive Advisory Board. CLP’s expansive, transdisciplinary approach and state-of-the-art facilities accelerate drug development and biomedical discovery at the University. O’Halloran is the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry, professor of molecular biosciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and the institute’s founding director.
While a student at Northwestern, Shin met his future wife, Pheodora Shin ’87, ’89 MD, who grew up in Skokie, Illinois. She is a pediatric anesthesiologist at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey, where the couple settled down to raise their daughter Grace.
This fall, Grace entered Northwestern undecided about her major, just as her father had been three decades earlier. Like him, she is taking advantage of the University’s vast offerings to find her own calling.
“I chose Northwestern because I felt it could give me a wide variety of options, so that no matter what I do, I would be well equipped with the resources here,” she said.
As Grace begins her Northwestern education, her parents remain active in the alumni community and contribute to their class scholarship funds for the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and Feinberg School of Medicine.
“Northwestern allowed us to grow as young adults and find our way,” Shin said. “My wife was not from a wealthy family and was a Pell Grant recipient. Northwestern offered her a path where she did not have a huge amount of student loans. One of the things that we commit to, along with supporting Chemistry of Life Processes Institute, is giving back to ensure as many people as possible from different backgrounds can benefit as we have from a Northwestern education.”
by Lisa La Vallee