Recorded: 22 Mar 2003
Well, you know the positive things about being a scientist are the independence one has; I mean there are few professions that you have the kind of independence you do in science. You really think about the problems you want to think about, your activities are pretty much under your control, you read what you want to read, you travel when you want to travel and so on. And nothing is more exhilarating than the feeling of discovery. When you’ve actually looked at something for the first time and no one else has. And it’s just a high that’s indescribable. And I think that’s what drives all people to do sciences is that one moment when you make a connection. It’s a combination of sort of intellectual delight and feeling that you’ve contributed something in some very important way.
It is hard to be a scientist, obviously. It takes a level of commitment that I think is extraordinary compared to most professions. In science you don’t leave your work at the lab. It follows you wherever you go. You are thinking about it constantly. And it requires, especially when you’re first starting out and trying to make your own way, it’s an amazing amount of time. And that, of course, has a price to pay for it, in your personal life and other aspects of your interactions with people. And finding a balance, I think, is what everybody tries to do. Some find it and some don’t.
Tom Maniatis, molecular biologist, is a leader in the field of recombinant DNA. At Vanderbilt University he completed his Ph.D. studying DNA wide-angle scattering. He became a postdoctoral fellow and professor at Harvard University and met Jim Watson just before he became director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
While Maniatis was beginning experimentation with cDNA cloning and gene regulation of higher cells, the controversy over recombinant DNA in Cambridge stunted his progression. Watson offered Maniatis a position at CSHL where he could work more efficiently to understand the methods of recombinant DNA. At CSHL, Maniatis completed full-length synthesis of double stranded DNA and actual cloning of cDNA.
He is currently a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University studying the mechanisms involved in the regulation of RNA transciption and pre-messenger RNA splicing. He studies transcription to understand how eukaryotic genes are activated by viral infection and extracellular signals.