Bruce Stillman on Lessons Learned from Jim Watson
  Bruce Stillman     Biography    
Recorded: 14 Aug 2003

What have I learned from Jim? Well, a lot of things. Scientifically Jim has always emphasized two things. One is to think about important problems. And I think one of the characteristics of my science is that I’ve tended in my field, which is DNA replication, to go after the important problems in that field when they are solvable. And to not tackle problems that are going to be too intransient that one can’t make any significant headway until the technology or some breakthroughs come along. But still [to] persist on things. One of the areas where I’ve persisted, where we persisted for eight years, was just to go after identifying the origin binding protein in eukaryotes. I fundamentally believed it existed but it took a long time to find it. And so, I thought that was a very important problem.

Jim said, "Go after big problems" and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I haven’t actually spent, [as] a lot of biochemists do, a lot of time doing, and then making a discovery, and then following up on the nitty gritty details down to the atomic level. That’s not my thing. Although, we have done a lot of detailed biochemistry, of course.

The other thing about Jim was that he’s always said, "Hang around with smart people." Well, it was actually a pleasure to hang around him because he’s actually got a lot of insight into science. But also the other people at Cold Spring Harbor [Laboratory] like Joe Sambrook and Rich Roberts. They're two notable people that I talked to a lot when I first came here, and they influenced my research. Also the people in the lab that I worked with: Mike Mathews, Jim Lewis and some of the post docs in the lab at that time. We had great fantastic discussions about science, and I consider them smarter than me in a lot of things. I got a lot of ideas from talking to them. So Jim's emphasized that. And he, in directing Cold Spring Harbor [Laboratory], he created part of the culture that you actually talk to people. And that’s, I think, a very important aspect.

Molecular biologist and biochemist, Bruce Stillman, received his Ph.D. from the John Curtain School of Medical Research at the Australian National University in 1979. His long affiliation with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory began in 1979 when he arrived as a postdoctoral fellow. He became a member of the scientific staff (1981), Senior Scientist (1985), Assistant Director (1990), Director and Chief Executive Officer (1994), and President (2003), the position he currently holds. Stillman has also been Director of the Cancer Center at CSHL since 1992.

His research concerns DNA replication, yeast genetics, cell cycle and chromatin structure. His work has elucidated the reason why DNA sequences and silenced states of chromatin are pass through generations. His lab is concerned with understanding the mechanisms and regulation of DNA replication in eukaryotic cells, a process that ensures accurate duplication and inheritance of genetic material from one cell generation to the next.

Bruce Stillman has received numerous awards and honors and research awards. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (1993), and as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (2000).