Ron Plasterk on Advice to Young Scientists
  Ron Plasterk     Biography    
Recorded: 07 Jun 2004

I think you should, to some extent, take life as it comes. Probably with more than just science, but in general, in life. Every time I really wanted something, it didn’t work out. And every time I said well let’s see what happens it worked out beautifully. I’m happily married. I have a nice job. I have wonderful children. I never decided that, you know, three years from now I wanted to have kids. It just worked out that way. So I think you shouldn’t plan too much.

For example, I was fascinated by memory and learning and here at Cold Spring Harbor I took a course, just seven or eight years ago, in memory and learning because there were some papers that the worms that I work on, the nematode could actually do associative learning. I said that this is the greatest thing because I have a background in genomics and in C. elegans research and I am going to specialize in memory and learning and solve all the genetics of that. And it never worked. I think because the worms wouldn’t learn and these papers could not be reproduced. But also then what happened was just as I was getting a little bit bored with transposon research; because I felt the important questions were answered, all of a sudden we discovered this whole transposon silencing system, which turned out to be almost synonymous to the RNAi system because that’s what RNAi does in a worm. The lesson is that, you shouldn’t ask too much of life, you should see what comes your way. Sometimes you should say no, so there have been definitely developments where I said no, I don’t want to go that way. But I don’t think you want to plan too far ahead.

[I have said no] to projects, or jobs, or to decisions. I don’t know, after my postdoc, I got a job offer from Columbia University in New York. Somehow it didn’t feel right. Then I—even though it was a wonderful department—I said no then. I don’t know. Of course, you can’t play the tape back and decide whether that was a good choice or not. So that’s an example of saying no.

Ronald Plasterk, is a Dutch politician of the Labour Party and successful scientist and molecular genetics. He studied biology at the Leiden University and economics at the University of Amsterdam. In 1981 he received the Dutch doctorandus degree in biology. In 1984 he earned a doctorate in mathematics and natural sciences from the University of Leiden.

After receiving his Ph.D. he moved to California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and worked as a post-doc (1985-1986) on the transposon sequences in DNA in the parasite Borrelia hermsii. Plasterk was also a post-doc at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge (1986-1987) where he studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode that is used as a model organism. His major area of research include genetics and functional genomics.

He came back to the Netherlands in 1987 and became a group leader and member of the board of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. Between 1989 and 2000 he was director of the research school of oncology at the institute. From 1997 till 2000 he was professor of molecular genetics at the University of Amsterdam. In 2000 was appointed director of the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology (Hubrecht Laboratory) and at the same time he was a professor in developmental genetics at Utrecht University.

In February 2007 Ronald Plasterek was appointed minister of Education, Culture and Science in the fourth Balkenende government and he decided to end his scientific career. He held this position until February 2010. He is a member of the House of Representatives and Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

More Information: Wikipedia