Jeffrey Miller on Jim Watson Mentor
  Jeffrey Miller     Biography    
Recorded: 08 Mar 2006

… what I’ve learned from Jim, and most real learning comes from example. There a few things I’ve learned about Jim that aren’t just apparent if one just reads a few autobiographical things. First of all, Jim is someone of enormous personal character. And sometimes that isn’t treated in some of the books that come out. There’s a recent book by Victor McElheny, okay, and nowhere does that come out. He has enormous personal character. And it’s exhibited many, many times. But by his example one of the things that I’ve really learned is how important it is to spend time helping to develop young scientists. So Jim, as much, or more so than anybody, in the history of molecular biology has devoted enormous amounts of time and energy towards helping the careers of young people. He just, ah.., just so many people, he’s, he’s… To give you my own example, he helped push me for the Society of Fellows where I became a junior fellow. He, uh, helped me to get my first job. He recommended that I apply to the University of Geneva, and he helped convince them to hire me. He got me my first writing job when he pushed me to write what became a very popular lab manual…when I was still a graduate student, when I started it. And he also got me my first textbook writing job, you know a situation whereby he recommended me to W. H. Freeman when they were looking to add another author on what’s the best-selling introductory genetics textbook. And he also introduced me to the biotech world by putting me on the scientific advisory board of a, of a company that he was on the board of directors of. And as a result of that experience, I later founded with two other scientists a biotech company that’s now called Diverse, it’s in San Diego. It does very well. And, uh, that’s just me! There are 50 to…there are probably several hundred people who could say similar stories. And as a result of that example, uh, and not alone, there other people who also spend time developing young people. But as a result of his example I spend and enormous amount of time with undergraduates, developing undergraduate programs. I have ten undergraduates in my lab. They’re, they represent three-quarters of my lab. And so I’ve learned that. And I’ve also learned how important integrity is in science.

But I can tell you that that he did a lot of things for a lot of people. He has a lot of energy in that area. It’s ah, it’s so much more than most people do, that it’s very hard to appreciate. … I can think of so many people that he has spent so much time helping and supporting. It’s just something… it’s just one of his extraordinary qualities.

MP: Tell me about your interactions with him at Harvard.

Jeffrey H. Miller, Ph.D., is the Distinguished Professor of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles. After receiving his undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Rochester, he did graduate work in biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard in the department that included Jim Watson and Walter Gilbert, doing his thesis work under Jonathan Beckwith at Harvard Medical School. His postdoctoral work was pursued under Benno Müller-Hill at the Institute for Genetics of the University of Cologne in Germany, followed by 11 years on the faculty at the University of Geneva's Department of Molecular Biology, which was then headed by Alfred Tissières. In 1983 he joined the faculty at UCLA, where his scientific focus has been large-scale DNA sequencing and genomic analysis, the enzymology of DNA repair, protein structure, and the role of DNA repair enzymes in human cancer. He received the 2007 Career Award for Research from the Environmental Mutagen Society.

Miller has been a frequent participant at Cold Spring Harbor Symposia, a course lecturer at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and a co-organizer of two meetings at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Banbury Center. He has been a consultant and principal in various biotechnology companies since the 1980s. In 1994 he co-founded Diversa Corporation, which has merged to become Verenium, a publicly owned biofuel company. He is the author of several books and laboratory manuals published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, including "Experiments in Molecular Genetics" (1972), "A Short Course in Bacterial Genetics" (1992), and "Discovering Molecular Genetics" (1996).