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50 Years of Service: Kuo-Hsiung Lee

October 31, 2020
Office of Human Resources
Dr. Lee portrait

Kuo-Hsiung Lee, originally from Taiwan, enjoys practicing Tai Chi and Chinese calligraphy when he is not in his lab at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Kuo-Hsiung Lee, Ph.D.
UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy

What is your position at UNC?

Kenan Distinguished Professor of Medicinal Chemistry & Director of Natural Products Research Laboratories at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

What is your favorite part of working in your role at UNC?

I enjoy working at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, as I have been able to work with so many scientists with the best brains from around the world. We work together every day focusing on new drug discovery & development research. This work has the chance to discover something really useful for the benefit of mankind.

Do you have a favorite memory, story, or anecdote from your time at Carolina that you’d like to share with us?

Since most of the visiting scientists are from Asia, especially Japan, I have had a total of at least 80 professors from Japan. Most have gone on to become full professors at their universities in Japan. I have had the opportunity to improve my Japanese language skills while talking to them on many occasions, enough to deliver a lecture in Japanese at Kyoto University Institute of Chemistry. On the other hand, when I have scholars come from China, I like to joke with them and challenge them in ancient Chinese literature or calligraphy. I enjoy sharing this ancient knowledge with them.

What is something about your job at UNC that most people might not know?

One thing most people might not know is how well known the work I have done is in Asia, but not so much in the U.S. I think this is because I have always been too focused on my research to bother promoting it. Even when journals ask to highlight my work, I usually decline.

Do you have a favorite location on or around campus here in Chapel Hill? Tell us about it.

My favorite location is my office and my laboratory here at UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. They are quiet and calm so that I can concentrate on my research without distractions.

Where are you from originally? What do you love about calling North Carolina home?

I am from Taiwan originally. I call North Carolina home now, as I have spent more time here than I have in my hometown in Taiwan. I enjoy living in Chapel Hill since it is a wonderful university town. My house is surrounded by woodlands, which I enjoy as well.

When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?

I practice Chinese calligraphy, especially the cursive style. I have developed my own unique style found nowhere else in the world. I think this is one of the most enjoyable things in my life, as this art is quite abstract, and you can express your own style.

Do you have any “fun facts” or hidden talents that your UNC colleagues may not know about?

I learned Tai Chi from one of the best masters in Taiwan. He received the highest martial arts award from the president of Taiwan, and he lived to be 96 years old. I practiced with him up until two months before he passed away, and he taught me the secret of true meditation and relaxation.

What is your secret to longevity here at UNC? What advice would you give to others who would like to make it to this milestone that you’ve achieved? 

My principle is to live simply and concentrate on my work to the exclusion of all else. This is the art of zen: to allow yourself to focus and to follow your interest wherever it leads without being afraid of failure.

I greatly enjoy the environment of UNC, and work with wonderful faculty and staff. Due to the efforts of former Dean Robert Blouin and many faculty, our school is now ranked #1 in the nation. I also was fortunate to receive NIH grant funding for most of my time here, which lead to about 950 publications and about 120 patents. It is a pleasure to be a faculty member at this distinguished institution

If you could switch jobs with another staff member at UNC for a day, who would it be? Why?

I would switch jobs with Professor Susan Morris-Natschke. She has been working with me for over 30 years and understands our work intimately.

Learn more about Lee by reading the Natural Products Research Laboratories (NPRL) Newsletter

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