Nancy Hopkins on Jim Watson, Celebrity
  Nancy Hopkins     Biography    
Recorded: 09 Apr 2001

Well, I’m so glad that I met him before I really understood what a great celebrity he was. To me, he is that. Over time, sometimes I have to stand back and say, “Wow, that’s the person who did that thing,” and he did all these [different things]. But I knew him as Jim, the person who made science exciting so to me. So he, to me, is just all of the other rest of it and the thing of the DNA, you know, he is a historical figure. I mean, one of the things that was surprising—I was in Chile with Jim at a meeting, and Liz was there. Often at the breaks of the meeting we’d walk outside, and you could see the students and people would be taking photographs of him and people were looking at him as if he were this very famous person. It startled me all over again to realize this is a person who can walk down the street and be recognized as a historical figure and, you know, that just is separate. It’s like a separate person who’s there. It’s just a fact that you accept as a part of him, but you just don’t think about [it] when you’re with him. It’s one of his charms. We all know it. It’s just the way somebody has black hair or somebody else is tall; he is a historical figure.

Nancy Hopkins is a developmental biologist and the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at MIT. Working under Jim Watson and Mark Ptashne, Hopkins earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1971. As a postdoctoral fellow she moved to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where she continued working under Watson researching DNA tumor viruses. In 1973 she joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in the Center for Cancer Research, where she researched the mechanisms of replication and leukemogenesis by RNA tumor viruses for 17 years.

Hopkins has also led an ongoing effort to end discrimination against women in science. In 1995 she was appointed Chair of the first Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science at MIT, and in 2000 she was appointed Co-Chair of the first Council on Faculty Diversity at MIT. Hopkins co-authored the fourth edition of Molecular Biology of the Gene. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.