Gerald Rubin on Luck in Science
  Gerald Rubin     Biography    
Recorded: 30 May 2003

…and this happens to many people. They are working very hard on something and they are on the verge of making an important discovery, and then they realize that someone six thousand miles away was a month ahead of them. So they would have clearly have gotten there, right, and discovered something and the only that prevented them from it was not doing anything that they weren’t doing, but that someone else was just a little bit ahead of them. So that means that’s being unlucky.

One thing I say in my career, I always felt extremely lucky and blessed. Because in my entire career, I’ve had good mentors, I’ve been in very good places. I’ve never had to worry about anything. I’ve always been happy with what I’ve been doing. And I never worried about money even as a poor graduate student. I mean I went to England partly because if I was going to be poor, I thought it would be more fun to be poor in England than somewhere in the U.S. But I never worried about anything, and in my lab, relatively lots of money, I don’t feel more secure about—I see people now having often a much harder time in their careers it looks like to me. But I never worried about these things. I just wanted to-I mean, science is what I wanted to do. And so, on Saturday, Sunday, nights, weekends, I would want to go to the lab and work. Maybe that’s compulsive, obsessive, whatever, and maybe that’s what it takes to be a scientist, but you have to really want to do it.

If you think its a job-I don't know any successful scientist who would describe what they do as their job, their passion, their obsession maybe, but not their job. A job implies that it’s something that you have to do to get money. No successful scientist use it. Some unsuccessful scientist, maybe. But I don’t think anyone you would be talking to that you would say successful would view this as a job. I think most of us view it as we were lucky that we could actually make a living doing what we really wanted to do. So I think in that sense we were lucky.

Gerald Rubin is a geneticist, molecular and cell biologist. As Director of the Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project, he led the sequencing of the entire fruit fly genome. Currently, as Vice President and Director of the Janelia Farm Research Campus at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, his research focus is on developing the biological and computer tools that are capable of analyzing and displaying the vast amount of information available from the genomic DNA sequencing of the fruit fly. He uses these advanced techniques to decipher gene regulation and expression at a genome-wide level in Drosophila and determine the function of certain fruit fly genes.

Gerald Rubin is also a professor of Genetics and Development at the University of California, Berkeley. He came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as an URP (Undergraduate Research Program) in the early 70’s working under Lionel Crawford and Ray Gesteland before moving to Cambridge to earn his Ph.D. in molecular biology. He did postdoctoral work at Stanford University School of Medicine and became an assistant professor of biological chemistry at Harvard Medical School prior to commencing his genetics professorship at Berkeley in 1983.

Gerald Rubin is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. Among the awards he has received is the American Chemical Society Eli Lilly Award in biological chemistry.