Interview With A Dead Scientis Essay, Research Paper
Dr. James Watson, PhD
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Dr. James Watson that took place at the Understanding What You Really Are Made of conference at the University of Lone Oak in 1994. Dr. James Watson co-discovered the structure of DNA with Dr. Francis Crick.
Excerpted from the conference transcripts with permission of the University of Lone Oak.
Interviewer: Please give us a few facts about your personal history, your life growing up before we begin the questions so we may better understand how your early life affected your career and discoveries.
Dr. James Watson: Well, let s see here. I guess I can start with birth, as most would. I was born in June 16, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois. I had a typical childhood until I entered the University of Chicago at the age of 15 and graduated in 1947. That is somewhat different from most teenagers. To graduate college at the age of 19, knowing that many are entering at that age.
Interviewer: Did your education continue at all from there? Or did you enter straight into the genetics lab?
Dr. James Watson: After the University of Chicago, both Harvard and Cal Tech turned down my application for graduate studies. Apparently they were unappreciative of my extensive background in literature and my passion for birdwatching as a candidate for further study in genetics. However, the University of Indiana accepted me. I received my PhD in genetics in 1950.
Interviewer: And after your education? Where did you go from there?
Dr. James Watson: From 1951 to 1953, I worked at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in London with Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, and Linus Pauling…very good partners. Extremely intelligent. All of us worked very hard to determine the structure of DNA, but it was there that Crick and I discovered in 1953 that the structure of DNA is a winding helix in which pairs of bases (adenine paired with thymine, and guanine paired with cytosine) held the two strands together.
Interviewer: This is definitely an amazing discovery, but how do you think it impacted the world s economy and welfare?
Dr. James Watson: I think it helps us to realize that in fact, humans are pretty bright. It helps us better understand the human body and to know that it is very remarkable. Each new discovery prompts others to want to know more than what they already know. Each time a discovery is made, more discoveries follow simply because of one discovery. The simple knowledge of the structure doesn t mean much, but now new discoveries can occur. Scientific studies can continue allowing us to replicate the DNA, possibly forming a second of what we already have. So much research stems off the original discovery made by Crick and myself.
Interviewer: So what initiated your interest in science?
Dr. James Watson: I suppose it was curiosity. I have always been curious about life and how it occurred…really, just what life is. As I studied, I worked out all the questions that just didn t have rational answers. I began to understand. It gives me pleasure to know what is happening.
Interviewer: Are you still curious?
Dr. James Watson: Oh, yes. I don t think a person with strong curiosity ever loses it. I have always loved facts.
Interviewer: Explain to us the Human Genome Project you are working on.
Dr. James Watson: I must keep this brief because it is a very complicated project. In a concise review, the Human Genome Project is by far the most ambitious, generously funded endeavor in biology. Its potential payoffs for medical applications are enormous, although uncertain, and despite increasing criticism from within the scientific community, there is a good amount of support for this high-risk assignment.
Interviewer: What would you tell students considering a career in science?
Dr. James Watson: Test yourself. Go to a university where your intelligence is challenged. Go where you think someone will be more intellectual than yourself. In circumstances such as those, you can learn not only from your teachers, but also one can learn from fellow students. Involve yourself with people who are interested in what you are interested in. Never be afraid of failure, because true failure is in not trying. Work as hard as you can in whatever field you choose, and don t give up till you are fully satisfied in what you have accomplished. Don t listen to the discouragements others may bring. This positively at all times. It isn t until a person steps outside of the box that a new thing is discovered. Don t be afraid to stand alone, and never choose not to stand. Since by standing for what you believe in, you are made stronger.
Interviewer: What is the thing you would most want to be remembered as?
Dr. James Watson: The co-discoverer of DNA structure. The Human Genome Project. The author of The Double Helix. One who follows his dreams and accomplishes things because of it.