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Building the molecular biology department at Harvard


Working with Wally Gilbert
James Watson Scientist
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We had... I was imitating Cambridge where, you know, we'd always have morning coffee, so you'd be talking, we had a seminar room, and the seminar room was where you came together and talked. Wally and I didn't have lunch together. You know, he was always more, Wally was doing experiments and, you know, I was doing academic politics trying to get him promoted or more space, so Wally never really was good at... I would say, at being a boss. He was very good at being brighter than anyone else but not as sort of... you know, he didn't think like an Irish politician or he didn't... that you sometimes have to give favors, you know, what the hell.

Sue used to say, 'Wally should we help you because Wally's very good'. Well, life doesn't go that way. So Paul Doty and I, you know, managed to get Wally into a biology lab which inherently didn't really want us, but Harvard at least had the good tradition you're supposed to appoint the best person. You could say Wally was the best. So, Harvard has given that up. I think it used to be that you had to say the person you're appointing is among the best three people in the world. Now they say, 'Oh, that's unrealistic', but that's because they've been misusing their endowment and have... not paying people enough. You always get the best people if you just keep raising the money.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Walter Gratzer Martin Raff

Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

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



Tags: Cambridge, Wally Gilbert, Paul Doty

Duration: 1 minute, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010