Park Se Pill is one of Korea’s leading scientists in stem cell research. When we met on Dec. 15, he showed that he is not only passionate about his work, but also his family. He is a son, a husband, and a father of two. Before the interview, he shared his daughter’s paintings on his iPad with The Weekly, just as any proud father would.
He is also a Catholic, born and raised in a Catholic family. His parents named him Se Pill, after the martyr Ceferino. His father is a devoted Catholic who used to volunteer regularly at St. Isidore Farm on Jeju Island, which is known for its livestock. Park, who hails from the mainland port city of Mokpo, about 140 km to the north of the island, heard a lot of stories about Jeju, especially about its animals. That was one of the reasons he chose to come to attend Jeju National University (JNU) for his undergraduate education in animal science.
The professor has commuted between Seoul and Jeju over 100 times a year for his research for the past five years. When he was offered to take up a professorship at JNU, he asked the university if they could allow his eight-person research team to work in Seoul because of the logistics of moving so many people simply because of him. He now spends about four to five days a week in Seoul and the rest on Jeju. When he is not in his research lab, he teaches one undergraduate and one graduate class. His only free time is his weekly Olle walk with colleagues.
Why and how did you choose to be a scientist?
Actually, I had talents in arts and sports too. However, my parents wanted me to study academics rather than the arts. Also, my parents taught me that every living creature has its own value.
There are so many other fields in animal science. What made you to study cloning?
When most people think of animal science, it is often assumed to be a subject of raising livestock. But I actually studied how lives came to be, with sperm and ova and more. I was always curious about all living creatures as a child. During my undergraduate and graduate school years, I was mostly focusing on external fertilization and stem cell research. However, [the announcement of] the birth of Dolly [the sheep, and the first cloned mammal] in 1997 really made me fall into the field of cloning with somatic cells. It was revolutionary.
What made you return to Jeju National University after 23 years?
After I graduated from JNU in 1983, I worked very hard in my field. After some time passed, I realized that I became who I am because of my undergraduate education. When I was trying to find ways to contribute to Jeju society, fortunately, JNU offered me the professor position.
Who is/was your mentor?
First of all, my father led me … [to be curious] about living things and value all living things. Also, when I was at JNU, my academic advisor was professor Kim Goon Kye, who taught me about animal reproduction. He is also the reason why I chose to pursue animal reproduction at Konkuk University for my master’s degree. Also, Professor Neal Lloyd has also taught me a lot during my post-doc at the University of Wisconsin.
What is your personal dream?
I have been conducting research on stem cells because of its possibility to cure the incurables. However, none of it has been approved for clinical trials. I really hope, one day, to see a patient cured with cures I developed. It is a dream most embryologists share.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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