Alfred Tissières on Jim Watson at Harvard
  Alfred Tissières     Biography    
Recorded: 04 Jun 2001

Of course it was difficult for Jim. Jim started lecturing, and some of the people at Harvard were very critical of him already because good manners were of importance to these people. I think some of the young people who went to the lectures were quickly on the side of Jim. And then of course—I think I’ve mentioned this before—Jim was talking to the chemists of Harvard and the chemists of Harvard were a very well known people in the world and they had an enormous amount of power because chemists make money. It goes together. So the chemists—there were some bad chemists, but there was a group of very strong chemists who were taken seriously. Those were—Jim was always talking to them—one of them was Paul Doty, but there were others, I can't remember their names. Those people were backing Jim very strongly and they didn't want to lose him. At one time they were, you see Jim was talking to me in a rather crude fashion, but I think that there were some times when the people in the faculty of Biology were wondering if they shouldn’t find a way to get rid of Jim. Jim was fuming as you can imagine.

In the very beginning, I'm not sure if he was successful but fairly soon he became very good at encouraging bright students to do the right experiments and helped them in choosing the right experiments, so he did that. On the whole I think he was one of the best supervisors of research I came across. In the sense if he saw someone bright he would really try to encourage them. He was very fair in this and he would never appropriate to himself something which was done by someone else. He was tremendous. Sometimes papers would come out with the names of students or and sometimes students published their own names, I don't remember exactly those things.

He was asking his students to do experiments that he thought he, himself might not do as well as some of his students, something like that. But in the very beginning and the number of students he had was low and he didn't have absolutely outstanding. One or two or three were good; he had four maximum. In the course of years he got a group of students which were absolutely fantastic. The best that you can have at a class at Harvard, which is very extraordinary.

Alfred Tissières was a biologist, biochemist and geneticist. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge for his work at the Molteno Institute and subsequently did postdoctoral work on respiratory enzymes at Caltech under Max Delbruck.

Soon after returning to Cambridge, Watson suggested he come to Harvard to work on microsomal particles in E. coli.

At Harvard, Tissières and Jim discovered that ribosomes were made of two unequal pieces, each containing protein and RNA. Tissieres began a professorship at the University of Geneva where his laboratory has become prominent in the field of ribosome research.

Alfred first attended a symposium at Cold Spring Harbor in 1961 and when Jim Watson became director, Tissières would regularly visit with his family during the summer.