Welcome home, Aaron Cullen

Letting go of the thought of “making so much more money” was the first step in Aaron’s journey back to Hawaii. Now that he’s here, he knows it was absolutely the right decision.

Aaron Cullen was born and raised in Wahiawa, Central Oahu. He attended Ka`ala elementary, Wahiawa Middle and Kamehameha Schools for high school.  He couldn’t wait to experience the mainland when he left for college. After completing his PhD in organic (chemistry) synthesis, he started a career in the field of drug discovery in one of the hotbeds of the pharmaceutical industry, Berkeley, CA.

But in the back of his mind, Aaron knew he’d eventually return to Hawaii. Especially after he married a local girl who felt the same way. They never considered California home. Even after 12 years of living there. Even after purchasing a house there. The experience Aaron gained while working at Gilead Sciences was priceless, but the longer they lived in California, the more the itch to come home became overwhelming.

After coming to terms with leaving a Bay Area salary behind, Aaron cold emailed a University of Hawaii at Manoa chemistry professor who helped him navigate Hawaii’s small chemistry community. He found a fit at the Queen’s Center for Biomedical Research. It sounds obvious, but until you make the effort to find your way back to Hawaii, no matter how much you say you’re planning to move back, it won’t happen. Take that leap of faith!

Podcast music by YEYEY and Podington Bear

The way Aaron saw it, if he stayed on the mainland to make more money, he’d have a bigger house and a nicer car… but that’s no comparison to living in a place where people actually care about each other and stop what they’re doing to help you. The Aloha Spirit – “Had I never left the island, I never would have missed it.”

Do you have a story you’d like to share? I want to hear it! Drop me a line at cindy@htdc.org.


Here’s Aaron and his son, enjoying the beach. It’s one his favorite things to do in Hawaii, with one of his favorite people.

Aaron is a research chemist at the Queen’s Center for Biomedical Research. He was previously a Research Scientist in the Process Group at Gilead Sciences, one of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical companies, advancing innovation in medicine. He received his BS in Chemistry from Santa Clara and PhD in Organic Synthesis from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He enjoys spending time with family, surfing, and eating spam musubis.


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