Recorded: 23 Apr 2001
Media figures were less well known when I was a graduate student than they are now. I consider Jim to be not much of an impressive media figure, He’s not charismatic. He’s not very compelling, but he’s outrageous. My impression of Jim is that he learned early in his life that being outrageous was a way to get attention and to make an impact and I think he’s never stopped doing it, I really do. I think he knows what he is doing when he gives a talk. He’s trying to provoke people to think about things. I think it’s effective, I wrote in my thesis in my acknowledgements—I acknowledged him as an unusually effective mentor. I can’t remember exactly the words, it was a bit of a mixed meaning. I meant that he was effective in an unusual way. I think that’s the way his public lectures are: Effective in an unusual way. Usually because they provoke rage or something. People don’t fall asleep during his talks, I think that’s pretty effective, actually. There are sometimes when I have been a little embarrassed by the things he’s said in public. But, again, if you do that your whole life, you can get away with murder. You can literally say anything and people say, “Oh, that’s Jim.” So I think that’s a mechanism of communicating that he’s developed over the years.
Richard Burgess is a geneticist who has been an important figure in cancer, microbial, and molecular research. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University under Jim Watson in 1969 and went on to work with Alfred Tissieres at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
He is currently researching RNA polymerases, monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), molecular genetics, computer-based sequence and structure analysis, and biochemistry at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Reaearch at the University of Wisconsin.