David Botstein on Teaching
  David Botstein     Biography    
Recorded: 28 May 2003

My favorite thing that I’ve done—and the thing I said it before—that I’ve always been doing genomics in the sense that the phage stuff was what I set out to do and this is for me an extension of the phage stuff.

The thing that has given me the most satisfaction without question and the thing that I’ve always thought of myself as is the teaching. So I’ve been an undergraduate teacher and a graduate teacher, had many graduate students and many postdocs and I’ve taught many courses and designed a number of courses that are used around the country. And when I think about my career the thing that gives me the most pleasure is knowing that there’s—basically no major university that doesn’t have one of my students in a fairly prominent position, and that they are well educated and that I was able to help them and recognize their talents and hopefully make it better. But I think recognition is really one of the main issues. And I think that the need to explain myself to students and to explain what we were doing to students has really helped my science greatly. I’m a big believer in the organic connection between research and teaching. And I think that our community has gone very badly astray in having all of these institutions that don’t do teaching particularly at the undergraduate level, and that includes Cold Spring Harbor. And the funding agencies, NIH and HHMI that have basically made economic disincentives to teaching for our best scientists. And I think that’s really a shame. But the editorial aside, what I’d gotten—that I had the most pleasure from is the students.

I think the most important feature for a teacher is to understand what the student is thinking and saying and to be able to appreciate what’s there and what’s missing. And to somehow figure out a way to motivate the student to make up the difference. I think to a very large extent my method has been to let the students go forward and to try to stay out of their way except when I see that we really have lost our way. So a lot of freedom I think is an essential issue. And the other thing is recognition of talent.

David Botstein is a prominent geneticist whose advocacy for gene mapping was crucial in laying the groundwork for the Human Genome Project. Botstein received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan for his research on bacteriophage synthesis. As a member of the MIT faculty he continued working with phage P22 DNA and discovered many bacterial and yeast genes. He served as Vice President of Science at Genentech before becoming professor at the Stanford School of Medicine where he led in sequencing the first large eucaryotic genome.

On July 1, 2003 he was appointed as Director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University. At Princeton he will continue to expound upon genome projects, explore the relationship between genes within the genome, and uncover how diseases like cancer alter the expression of genes.

Botstein researched at the CSHL while on sabbatical from 1974-1975. At the 1986 CSHL symposium on Human Genetics he played a crucial role in advocating for the Human Genome Project. While serving on the National Research Council Committee he emphasized that money be laid aside to fund the sequencing of other simpler organisms with which the human genome can be compared. Like Jim Watson, he has passionately supported the Human Genome Project since its inception.