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Working long hours at Massachusetts General Hospital


My interview for Massachusetts General Hospital
Gerald Edelman Scientist
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I then decided: well, since I've gone that far in medical school, I think I'd better clean it up and learn a little bit about medicine, so I had the good fortune to go to Massachusetts General Hospital. And that was at Harvard, and it was in fact one of the leading hospitals – certainly in the field of internal medicine which... which I decided to do as a house officer. I do remember one episode in... on the trip to the... to the interview at Massachusetts General and it taught me a great deal and it might have some influence on my thoughts about how you deal with young people today. I went up with a man named Warren Bowman, who was the first in my class; he worked assiduously. I was the second in my class in whatever these ratings mean. I didn't particularly work much; I was still fooling around with music although I had quit really. And what happened at Mass General is you went into a small room with four people – faculty people at the Harvard Medical School – and they queried you, and then... I only knew this retrospectively... because what happened is a young lady came and said, 'Come with me' if you got anywhere with those people; and they took you upstairs to the full faculty with my Professor Walter Bauer, or the one who was to be my professor there, and was one of the majordomos, I suppose, of Harvard Medical School, and you got another going... about and going-through.

Well, I couldn't answer more than 30% of their questions and I was pretty dispirited; on the train back I said to Warren Bowman, 'Well, that's the end of it for me because I didn't understand what the devil they were talking about.' There was a guy actually even asked me a question about physics, and Bowman said, 'Oh I answered all their questions. There was one particularly stupid one and I told them that, and they said, "What about an electrocardiogram in a whale?" And I...' He, Bowman, said, 'I told them that was a lot of nonsense. Well, I said to myself, Warren you're out too because about two weeks before Paul Dudley White, the great cardiologist was seen harpooning a whale, and he was on that board. The funny thing was I was accepted and he wasn't.' When I got there I remember talking to a physician Bill Baker, who was in the room the first time, and I said, 'Bill, why did you ask me about a cyclotron?' He said, 'Oh, I ran out of questions and I just sort of thought, well, you know, try something.' And I said, 'Well, that's amazing because I couldn't answer most of your questions.' He said, 'That wasn't the important thing; it was the style of your response.' And I think that is an important issue that I learned something from: namely, it isn't so much the absolute correctness or pedantry that counts; it's the way you look.

US biologist Gerald Edelman (1929-2014) successfully constructed a precise model of an antibody, a protein used by the body to neutralise harmful bacteria or viruses and it was this work that won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1972 jointly with Rodney R Porter. He then turned his attention to neuroscience, focusing on neural Darwinism, an influential theory of brain function.

Listeners: Ralph J. Greenspan

Dr. Greenspan has worked on the genetic and neurobiological basis of behavior in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) almost since the inception of the field, studying with one of its founders, Jeffery Hall, at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, where he received his Ph.D. in biology in 1979. He subsequently taught and conducted research at Princeton University and New York University where he ran the W.M. Keck Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology, relocating to San Diego in 1997 to become a Senior Fellow in Experimental Neurobiology at The Neurosciences Institute. Dr. Greenspan’s research accomplishments include studies of physiological and behavioral consequences of mutations in a neurotransmitter system affecting one of the brain's principal chemical signals, studies making highly localized genetic alterations in the nervous system to alter behavior, molecular identification of genes causing naturally occurring variation in behavior, and the demonstration that the fly has sleep-like and attention-like behavior similar to that of mammals. Dr. Greenspan has been awarded fellowships from the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation, the Searle Scholars Program, the McKnight Foundation, the Sloan Foundation and the Klingenstein Foundation. In addition to authoring research papers in journals such as "Science", "Nature", "Cell", "Neuron", and "Current Biology", he is also author of an article on the subject of genes and behavior for "Scientific American" and several books, including "Genetic Neurobiology" with Jeffrey Hall and William Harris, "Flexibility and Constraint in Behavioral Systems" with C.P. Kyriacou, and "Fly Pushing: The Theory and Practice of Drosophila Genetics", which has become a standard work in all fruit fly laboratories.

Tags: Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Warren Bowman, Walter Bauer, Paul Dudley White, Bill Baker

Duration: 2 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008