Ron Plasterk on John Sulston, Management Style
  Ron Plasterk     Biography    
Recorded: 07 Jun 2004

I remember he had a graduate student, his first graduate student, Roger Hoskin from Texas, from the United States. I don’t know but I imagine that he was probably best in his class. He really had to compete to go to this fancy place to work with this famous scientist. And he came there and he was just totally ignored. Well, I mean that sounds too negative. He was given total liberty; let’s just say that.

I remember a discussion, on Friday afternoon we would always go to the Frank Lee Pub, which is still there, and talk to John and say, “John, maybe you should do something about your graduate student.” And he said, “Well, what should I do?” I said, “Well, maybe give him a project, you know, supervise him.” He said, “We’ve never done that. We don’t have projects, they can just talk to anybody and they can work on whatever they like to work on.” I said, “Yeah, but you know, I think he expects a little bit more supervision and direction than just the liberty to talk to people. He wants to be told what to do.” He said, “You really think that I should do that?” He didn’t say we don’t do that. He said, “You really think we should do that?” I said, “I think probably it would be good, John.” So I think that he did try and he did change a little bit. Of course, since then, when he started the Sanger Center, he really changed because you can’t have a genome sequenced by people who just decide what to do. You really have to make sure they know what to do and how to do it.

So I think the way that science was done at the Medical Research Council at the time was that people were just given a plate of worms, in this case worms or maybe in another lab flies, and told, “Well, just look at them and decide what you are interested in.” And in a way of course that works well because then you come in with a new view and then you just decide what is most fascinating to you and you just decide to work on that. And then there were all these Nobel laureates, all these great minds, and you could just talk to them. They could then sort of respond to your ideas by saying well maybe you should read that first or talk to that person. So it wasn’t as if you were being ignored, that’s the wrong word. But you were just at full liberty to be a gentleman scientist. To find your own way rather than be told by a supervisor now you do this job. That was not the way it was done at all.

Ronald Plasterk, is a Dutch politician of the Labour Party and successful scientist and molecular genetics. He studied biology at the Leiden University and economics at the University of Amsterdam. In 1981 he received the Dutch doctorandus degree in biology. In 1984 he earned a doctorate in mathematics and natural sciences from the University of Leiden.

After receiving his Ph.D. he moved to California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and worked as a post-doc (1985-1986) on the transposon sequences in DNA in the parasite Borrelia hermsii. Plasterk was also a post-doc at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge (1986-1987) where he studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode that is used as a model organism. His major area of research include genetics and functional genomics.

He came back to the Netherlands in 1987 and became a group leader and member of the board of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. Between 1989 and 2000 he was director of the research school of oncology at the institute. From 1997 till 2000 he was professor of molecular genetics at the University of Amsterdam. In 2000 was appointed director of the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology (Hubrecht Laboratory) and at the same time he was a professor in developmental genetics at Utrecht University.

In February 2007 Ronald Plasterek was appointed minister of Education, Culture and Science in the fourth Balkenende government and he decided to end his scientific career. He held this position until February 2010. He is a member of the House of Representatives and Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

More Information: Wikipedia