Recorded: 17 Jul 2002
At Caltech there had been nine full professors of genetics, I was from the Chemistry department. I had never taken a course in genetics, but the professor who had been teaching it here decided not to teach it anymore. So the Chairman, Carol Williams said, “You’re going to teach genetics.” So that’s how I learned genetics.
And then for many years I taught, yes, the big undergraduate genetics course. I loved it!
So, if you keep teaching the same thing too much, pretty soon you stop learning and that makes it harder and harder to teach. You’d think it would get easier, it gets harder. The first time is the easiest. It may not be so good for the students, but it’s the easiest cause you’re learning. And cause they can see that and they’re in the same boat as you are.
I was a teacher at Caltech. I was an assistant professor at Caltech. I taught physical chemistry. It nearly killed me. I couldn’t, I couldn’t do any research cause chemists teach a lot more than biologists. We get away with—I hope there are no Deans watching this. But we get away with teaching only one course per year. In chemistry they teach two or more. And I was teaching two sections of physical chemistry all the time and I couldn’t do any research, so I asked them to demote me and take my assistant professorship at Caltech. And they were wise enough to do that. So I could become a postdoctoral research fellow again, and then I came here.
Matthew Meselson earned his Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago in 1951 and from the California Institute of Technology in 1957 under the tutelage of Linus Pauling.
In 1958 with Frank Stahl, Meselson experimentally showed the semi-conservative mechanism of DNA replication as predicted by Watson and Crick.
He is currently the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences in Harvard University's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. His laboratory studies sexual reproduction and genetic recombination, and how and why they are maintained in evolution.
Since 1963 Meselson has been interested in chemical and biological defense and arms control, has served as a consultant on this subject to various government agencies and is a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
Meselson has received the Award in Molecular Biology from the National Academy of Sciences, the Public Service Award of the Federation of American Scientists, the Presidential Award of the New York Academy of Sciences, the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, and the 1995 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal of the Genetics Society of America. Dr. Meselson is presently a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.