Recorded: 23 Apr 2001
I don’t think of him that way. I just think of him as—I mean, my students say, “Did you see that? I saw Jim Watson walking down to breakfast this morning, isn’t that amazing?” He’s my Ph.D. advisor and I’ve known him for a long time. Being in his lab, we knew all of the most important people in molecular biology. Being an active scientist since then, I still do. So I am not so impressed by famous scientists. I mean, they are important, maybe I’m one of them. I don’t quite think of myself that way; I don’t know. These famous scientists are my friends, my colleagues, the people I went to graduate school with, and my undergraduate, post doc, and my colleagues, so they’re not quite as fun as seeing a professional basketball player, in my opinion.
…I’ll tell you another story. This spring I got chosen by my colleagues at Wisconsin to get a named professorship, I could choose the name. Now starting last month, I am the James D. Watson Professor of Oncology. So I just tried to think: Who would I name my professorship after? I can’t think of anybody who had a bigger influence on my scientific career. I called him up and said, “Jim, would you mind if I named my professorship after you?” He was pleased, I think. I was glad he was; I was hoping he wouldn’t be irritated. No, but it was nice; I couldn’t think of anybody that I would rather name it after.
As I said earlier Guido Guidotti and Klaus Weber were my most important mentors in the protein biochemistry area. Wally Gilbert was a very important person in the lab because he was—for most of the time it was considered the Watson/Gilbert lab and Wally played an important role in discussing things. Those are the people who probably had the biggest effect. Actually there is another person that had a big influence on me at Wisconsin and his name is Van Potter. Van is almost ninety, but I remember, [when I was] a very young professor, he was this person who was one of the oldest members of the department and who was one of the youngest minded people in the department. And to me that was impressive, a very Renaissance guy; he invented high fidelity speakers before Fisher.
Richard Burgess is a geneticist who has been an important figure in cancer, microbial, and molecular research. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University under Jim Watson in 1969 and went on to work with Alfred Tissieres at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
He is currently researching RNA polymerases, monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), molecular genetics, computer-based sequence and structure analysis, and biochemistry at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Reaearch at the University of Wisconsin.