Recorded: 09 Apr 2001
In some ways it hasn’t changed in all those years. And maybe that was the other thing about him that I loved so much from the beginning. I never saw him as the professor, so remote, so above me, so whatever. I think partly in his manner was a sense that a young person might have a better idea than the Nobel Prize winner, so it was a sense that wherever the going was good, wherever the excitement was, that was what drove him. It wasn’t his status, your position, whether you were tenured or untenured, young or old, didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the idea and the fact, getting the facts, and getting the most exciting and interesting facts. So there was this equalizing sense of science, as an equalizer. That’s what I loved about him, I think. Because that’s the science that you could get excited about as a young person. You had a place in it that was equal to his place in it. So I didn’t appreciate as a young person, I didn’t realize, what it meant to be Jim Watson. I didn’t realize that this was a historical figure. I never thought about it; it was just Jim. He was just my friend Jim who made science exciting and made us all involved in this enterprise together and it’s extraordinary. And he still has that feeling. I spoke to him on the phone yesterday and we were talking about how the way science is today and I was saying something—I was concerned about the way things were going and he said, “Oh no! It’s all about just wanting to know how life works.” So it’s still the same today and it was always like that. That’s what it was all about.
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.