Recorded: 17 Jan 2003
I actually met Bruce [Stillman] when I came back from Cold Spring Harbor. He was just finishing his Ph.D. at ANU [The Australian National University] and he had been working on adenovirus actually for his Ph.D. and so he had organized a position to go as a postdoc to Cold Spring Harbor, so I remember that we got together at some stage it must have been at a conference in Australia shortly after I got back. He was fairly young, naïve—but already knew what he wanted to do—person and so he was grilling me about Cold Spring Harbor: what it was like, what it would be like to work there, who were the people, what were they like, and all of those things. So, cause I could give him all the gossip and the real information on what these people were actually like. And so he went off at least armed with some view about how things had been just a couple of months before he got there.
And then I saw Bruce then a few times after that. I think a couple of times that I visited Cold Spring Harbor, one to go to an RNA splicing meeting and another time just to drop in and say hello to people. Bruce was there so I called him just to chat about things were going and then a couple of times he was back in Australia visiting his family and visiting various labs in Australia and so I managed to catch up with him and see his progression, his level of confidence, his fantastic achievements, but particularly his self confidence and his idea of his own value which I think was the thing that I also got out of being there. So it was lovely to see that progression and then of course to end up as director of Cold Spring Harbor is a fantastic achievement for him. So that’s great.
I think that Bruce, at various times, thought it would be nice to come back to Australia and so he would come back and he’d look around and talk to people. But he fairly quickly realized that there were not very many jobs in Australia that really were as appealing as what he could achieve at Cold Spring Harbor.
And of course at the ripe old age of 32 or something which he might have been at the time nobody was certainly going to offer him those jobs which might be appealing to him in Australia. So I think he quite quickly realized that you know Australia wasn’t where he was going to find his career. I think that he had married an American by that stage as well so that gave him an extra reason to stay there.
Merilyn Sleigh is a pharmacologist, molecular biologist and dean in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of New South Wales. After completing her Ph.D. at the University of Sydney in pharmacology and another PhD in molecular biology at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), she came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to work under Joe Sambrook as a postdoctoral fellow researching the protein production of SV40. She returned to CSIRO, establishing one of the first laboratories in Australia using genetic engineering approaches to study influenza virus structure, evolution and gene regulation. She has become involved in developing the biotechnological industry in Australia. Sleigh is founding director of the Australian Biotechnology Association and is currently Chief Executive of EvoGenix, a start-up biotechnology company located in Australia.