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

We spent a lot of time together at the time. This was the other thing that was so interesting about Jim; he seemed really oblivious to age differences and to status differences. So his friends were certainly his colleagues on the faculty at Harvard, but they were also his graduate students and his postdocs and even undergraduates and we used to go out to dinner. Sometimes several of us, but often I would go to dinner with him. And often we would go with his father, to dinner because he was very close to his father, because his mother had died and his father had been left alone for a number of years. Jim was very close [to him] and took care of his father, took him on holidays. They lived in close-by apartments to each other. His father was a delightful person and sometimes we would go and have dinner with his father.

So we did that a lot, but mostly, at the time, other than science—Jim was looking—he was unmarried and he was very interested in finding a spouse. So we did have many interesting conversations because he was so optimistic in each new situation that he might meet the love of his life. And it seemed like every few weeks, he thought he would meet this person. And then he loved to come and discuss all the charms of this latest candidate. And so we used to go to get dinner and I would listen to all the rapturous thing about the latest possible candidate. But the next month, there’d be another candidate. So you realized there was a long string of possible candidates. So we had many interesting discussions about that.

We also talked about—I think we went to the movies sometimes and we talked about science a lot. And of course that was really, the politics of science. So I was learning from him the culture of molecular biology, the interactions of the players, you know, his relationship with Francis Crick and Wally Gilbert, and all these people, who were to me—they were my rock stars. For me to meet someone like Sydney Brenner or Francis Crick was like meeting Elvis Presley or the Beatles. It was the same kind of thing—it was the same era. These were the people who peopled my landscape.

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.