Ann Burgess on Jim Watson, Mentor
  Ann Burgess     Biography    
Recorded: 29 Apr 2005

When I actually got involved with a project and working in the lab after the first year and coursework was done, I was working with Dave Denhardt. I was working on a project on the phage fiX174 and for a while we were trying to synthesize DNA in vitro from this phage and we were having a lot of trouble having anything work. After a while I was getting frustrated because I couldn’t see this leading to a thesis. I went to talk to Jim one time for advice. One thing that Jim was really, really good at is picking out projects for students that work. Something that was solid where you knew you could get a thesis, but they might have a little twist where something might be spectacular and that happened with Dick. His thesis was to characterize the subunits of RNA polymerase. Well, that would have been a great thesis but he ended up finding sigma factor, which was spectacular.

So anyway, I had this conversation with Jim and he said, “You might think about trying to characterize the proteins from that virus after you infect UV-irradiated cells.” So someone else in his lab had been working on a project like that with lambda and he was thinking that it might work as a way to figure out—we knew the cistrons from genetic evidence, but we didn’t really know what cistrons fit with what protein at that time. So that’s what I ended up doing for my thesis. It was incredibly good advice and it was a very good project and it was doable. I can’t remember exactly how that went, but I saw him often in an informal way because of those meetings every day when we had tea.

Ann Burgess is the Director Emeritus of the Biology Core Curriculum. She earned her B.S. in chemistry from UW-Madison and her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard University. She was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1987 to 2002.

Biology Core Curriculum is four semester intercollege honors program that provides a broad and integrated background for students interested in any field of biological science. She is interested in undergraduate science education with a particular accent on laboratory and filed experiences that absorb students in process of science.

Ann Burgess is running in several UW-Madison and national efforts to advance science education, including the BioQUEST Consortium and the National Institute of Science Education's College Level One team.