Mary Jane Gething on James Lab Atmosphere
  Mary Jane Gething     Biography    
Recorded: 16 Jan 2003

[The person who established the atmosphere in James] It had to be Joe! Because I’ve seen it established at each place he goes. I mean, now in Australia he has sort of fostered and led, but fostered is probably a better word the development of a consortium which is called the Kathleen Cunningham Breast Cancer Consortium—Kay Confab. This was—he looked around and he went to Peter Mac, which is the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute and saw in general that science in Australia is too small. I mean the funding is pathetic and the groups are small and funding is only for [a] three-year period. So it’s very hard to do more expansive science. The kind of science that he certainly likes to do and I like to do. To really not publish until you have the last word on a topic and it’s a big piece of work. It just doesn’t work in the funding situation here. And he saw people in cancer research trying to do—all doing their own tiny little bit that didn’t come together to be anything. So he—talking to people and eventually they called together all the people really working on breast cancer in the whole of Australia and got together and made this consortium and it’s now almost everybody in Australia who works on breast cancer and it’s powerful. And they got funding, first of all from the Kathleen Cunningham foundation which is why it’s called the Kathleen Cunningham foundation. And they recruit high risk families, I’m sure Joe will tell you more about this, but it’s a phenomenal thing to be able to hold together such a large group of people with competing interests and this is not just basic scientists it’s everything from commissions to family cancer nurses, geneticists, genetic counselors to hard core scientists. And they all have their own ambitions and they all have their own agendas, but Joe manages to hold it all together and I think it works because he has this generosity. He’s a very challenging person, obviously, but people will take a lot of shit from him because they know it’s—he’s doing it not for his own aggrandizement and not for his own agenda but because he’s bringing people up to their very best and making them work together. I sometimes stand there amazed at the sort of rudeness, almost. But people smile and say they agree with him because they know that they agree with him. Because they know he’s not—first of all he’s not going to say this to someone else—he’s not going to say it differently to someone else.

He’s completely open and true to his opinion and he’s not going to bad mouth anybody behind their back. He tells them what he sees as the truth and he does it for, this might sound trite, but for the good of the enterprise. And people take it. It’s amazing! But and it works. And it was the same in James. I mean the myth of the James seminars that they were so challenging and so on. The very best of science came out of it. Nobody could get away with a half baked thought or you know a pretense of importance or whatever.

Mary-Jane Gething, biochemist is Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Melbourne where she earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1974. Subsequently she went to Cambridge to do post-doctoral work.

In 1976, she moved to London to work on protein sequencing and in 1980, Gething and Joseph Sambrook received a NATO grant for travel to collaborate on virus research. She began working at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1982 where she continued her research of proteins. In 1985, Gething and Sambrook moved to Dallas to work at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. They moved back to Australia in 1994.

Her current research involves protein folding in the cell and the role of molecular chaperone BiP.