Mary Jane Gething on Work in Cambridge and London
  Mary Jane Gething     Biography    
Recorded: 16 Jan 2003

Okay, I moved there in ’74, so but while I was doing my Ph.D. in Melbourne my supervisor had been a postdoc in Cambridge. And we had to sort of bow in the direction of Cambridge quite frequently and so for him in advising me there was no question that I would go anywhere else. For me as well it was—I was half English. My mother is Australian but my father is English and I’d spent until I was about ten in and around the British Isles. And so I wasn’t sure if I was Australian or English. So I wanted to go back. And the third thing was it was the years of the Vietnam War and America was not too popular at that time. And so I didn’t think for a moment of going to work in America then. Obviously I did later. But Cambridge was the center of the Universe for me and I was amazed when I was accepted.

I was very lucky. I needed to have my own money and there were very few scholarships for women at that time. And in fact I won the Shell scholarship for science and engineering. And it was the first year it had been open to women. But the funny thing was the interview I had was very little about science. It was all about women’s place and I was talking about the Women’s Electoral Lobby and about Community Control Childcare and so perhaps it was, you know, partly that as well as science that got me that scholarship to Cambridge. So I went.

It was [an] amazing time. I—in the end, wished—the advice I give to young scientists there is if you find yourself in a postdoc that doesn't fit all that well that you must take it upon yourself to find somewhere else. Cause I was working in a lab that—on bacterial evolution and my supervisor was terrific, Brian Hartley, but I just couldn’t get emotionally involved in my project. And next door was Cesar Milstein’s lab and George Kholer. I was a good buddy of his, and they were just doing all of the initial work on monoclonal antibodies. And down the hall was Liz Blackburn, a graduate student with Fred Sanger and the—working on DNA sequencing techniques and the pace was just stepping up amazingly. They were doing the early work on dideoxy sequencing. And I had my own money. So I have always regretted, although I’m very happy with my scientific life so it probably doesn’t matter, but I always regretted not, you know, sort of walking down the corridor and saying or saying to Brian, this just isn’t what I want to do in science. So instead I heard of a job going in London at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund with Mike Waterfield. So I basically bailed out and went to London, rather—it seemed easier than bailing out and walking down the corridor. And to be honest living in London at that time of my life, so this was now in ’76 I think, and I was in London till ’81, ’82 were just the most wonderful time to be in a big city. And Cambridge I found rather parochial actually, after you get over the beauty of the place it’s kind of boring. But London was fabulous. The lab was in the middle of London. It was a short walk to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It was a short walk to Covent Garden, everything was there.

Surroundings have always been important to me. Although we’ll probably talk later about being in Dallas and that can’t be the reason there. And I was very happy scientifically in Dallas, but they are important. And I think it was a sort of work hard, play hard kind of thing. And you did have somewhere to go. And I lived out on Hampstead Heath. It was just a perfect time!

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.