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Making a career in science now


'Big' science versus 'small' science
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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I do suppose that having at least one mammalian genome is well worthwhile. I think having the human genome was an enormously expensive enterprise involving big science and I just don't know anybody who isn't directly or indirectly benefiting from it, and what's more I think that the benefits are growing, mainly because the new browsers are so much better than the old ones, I think that anybody who has used Ensembl feels gratitude to the people who went to the trouble of building it. What about the- the issue of big science? To some extent that's an issue between universities, which are- historically and still- places with small science, at least in a British university. Very hard to build a large group, and by a large group I mean more than, let's say, eight or ten people. But even eight or ten people working at the same problem, historically, is a large number and it has grown over the years, and that compares with the institutes of biomedical research which assemble hundreds of scientists. Now, I am sure that people defending those institutes will say, well, if they still function in practice as small teams, and the fact that they are tucked under the same roof just makes it easier to collaborate and access other people's equipment, and more importantly to access other people's ideas. I don't buy that argument entirely. I think that biological research deeply needs university groups. It needs them to keep up the flow of scientists, young scientists, into what is financially a very unattractive profession. The example of an inspiring university teacher still exists and I think that the university teacher is still the great recruiting sergeant for science, for biology, but I am sure for the other sciences as well. So I would- I would hate to see British science turned out- developing into the- what is often called the Soviet model, where the research is all done in scientific centres and the universities are left as pure teaching institutions. I would- I would be very sorry to see that, and as far as I personally am concerned, all the- my traditions in my family, which I went on about earlier argue against that- so I stand, side shoulder to shoulder with my ancestors in defence of the universities. And there is no doubt that there is- I have also sat on many funding committees and there is always a push for science to relocate itself away from universities into research institutes because, when you measure them side by side, you know, person to person, research institutes come out better. But that's a different- somehow it's a different question.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010