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The importance of avoiding politics in science


Lucky to be a scientist
Jan Klein Scientist
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I think I would consider myself a very lucky person, because of many reasons. I was lucky in that in all these events where there was a crossroad I could go one way or the other. From the retrospect it seems I went the right way. Of course the retrospect is from the point that I am here, but... so to this improbable event at the end, I seem to have went the right way. I was... I am a lucky person in my private life that I married a woman, Dagmar, my wife, who had much understanding for the way I live, the way I work, and also my sons, Norman, Daniel and Paul who also showed understanding for the very little time that I had for them. I was lucky that I have teachers, especially Karel Kousal who I mentioned at the beginning, who guided me and who helped me in many ways. I had brothers and sisters who were supportive at the time when I went to studies and at other occasions and I was very lucky in the selection of students who joined my group... students, post docs, collaborators. They came from all different ethnic groups and the most wonderful experience was to have this international community, a little island, living in one building and interacting in many different ways beside scientific, especially large group, some 20 post docs came from Japan, a country which, as I already mentioned, was so decisive in my career, and then another large group came from Croatia. There were Czechs, there were Germans, there were students from the United States and so on, and I enjoyed working with all of them and they tremendously enriched my life and contributed to the success of the work that we were doing all together.

And I was also lucky in that I became a scientist. I think every scientist is a lucky person, because basically if we really love science, the way I did, I do still, we are... we don't have an occupation, we have a hobby. We work on a hobby. We devoted to our... all our time, but we enjoy what we are doing as we would enjoy any other major hobby, and it's a hobby for which we are paid. I think this is tremendous, this is fantastic. We... as a scientist I met very... many very interesting people, interacted with people. I visited many different places, I think most of the continents and in most of the major cities and areas, but above all I felt lucky to be a scientist because of the intellectual excitement that I was part of. It was a unique opportunity to create something that would hopefully become part of the major adventure that the human species is involved in, the creation of a culture, and thus be in a sense part of evolution... the cultural evolution which runs in parallel in our species with the biological evolution.

Born in 1936, Jan Klein is a Czech-American immunologist who co-founded the modern science of immunogenetics – key to understanding illness and disease. He is the author or co-author of over 560 scientific publications and of seven books including 'Where Do We Come From?' which examines the molecular evolution of humans. He graduated from the Charles University at Prague in 1955, and received his MS in Botany from the same school in 1958. From 1977 to his retirement in 2004, he was the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biology at Tübingen, Germany.

Listeners: Colm O'hUigin

Colm O'hUigin is a senior staff scientist at the US National Cancer Institute. He received his BA, MSc and PhD at the Genetics Department of Trinity College, Dublin where he later returned as a lecturer. He has held appointments at the Center for Population and Demographic Genetics, UT Houston, and at the University of Cambridge. As an EMBO fellow, he moved in 1990 to the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany to work with Jan Klein and lead a research group studying the evolutionary origins of immune molecules, of teeth, trypanosomes and of species.

Tags: Dagmar Klein, Norman Klein, Daniel Klein, Paul Klein, Karel Kousal

Duration: 5 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008