Evelyn Witkin on CSHL Symposia: Past and Present
  Evelyn Witkin     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jun 2000

Well, yes there is a great difference. At the 1946 symposium, it’s the first one that I attended and I really remember that one very vividly—more than some of the later ones. It was the first symposium dealing with microorganisms, genetics of bacteria in phage, and it was a very informal—it met in the present reading room of Blackford—and I don’t think we had any overflow of people at that particular one—it just about filled the room. The discussions were very spontaneous. There were some formal talks presented, but the discussion was very informal and very lively and went on for long periods. There was a lot of interaction on the beach and walking down Bungtown Road and that was as important a part of it as the meetings themselves. And I guess they’ve gotten so big now that the random collisions are accidental. I don’t always get to the people I’d like to. And of course the science has become incredibly beautiful; you know we were talking about experiments with a Petri dish and a pipette. The intricate parts of those experiments were mostly in the thinking. And now of course the thinking has to be intricate too, but you have an amazing array of techniques many of which boggle my mind cause I’ve been retired for awhile and I’m not intimately familiar with some of it. It’s really beautiful. I guess there’s been gradual change in the tone of the meetings. I haven’t been to one, I guess, for a while until this one. This one seems larger and more structured than some of the earlier ones that I remember. But the main difference I think is in the contact outside of the actual meetings. There used to be a great deal of that and it was possible to do it in fairly large groups and very informal situations. I don’t know if I’m getting the essence of the difference but that’s what it seems to me to be.

Well, there were two institutions, of course. I was on the Carnegie staff and that was quite small. In the Biological Laboratory, there was again a small year round staff but a lot of people came for the summer. I couldn’t guess at the numbers, but certainly, it was known to be small.

[Milislav] Demerec’s laboratory was upstairs in this building. That was I first came to work. This was the library, I think—this room. And the labs were upstairs and I guess everything Carnegie was doing was done here in this building or in the Animal House.

Evelyn Witkin is a leading bacterial geneticist. She earned her Ph.D. in 1947 with Theodosius Dobzhansky at Columbia University for her Drosophila research. Her interests evolved from Drosophila genetics to bacterial genetics, and she spent the summer of 1944 at Cold Spring Harbor, where she isolated a radiation-resistant mutant of E. coli. Witkin remained at the Carnegie Institution Department of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor until 1955.

In 1971, she was appointed Professor of Biological Sciences at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and was named Barbara McClintock Professor of Genetics in 1979. Witkin moved to the Wakeman Institute at Rutgers University in 1983. Among her many honors are membership in the National Academy of Sciences (1977), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1980), American Women of Science Award for Outstanding Research, and Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.