Tim Tully on Ways To Do Science
  Tim Tully     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Aug 2003

Well, my particular opinion about: is it difficult to do science? is related to the two types of scientists that I think exist; Jeff Hall and I have talked about this for years. There are basically careerists and scientists. Now careerists are just what I say; they are interested in their career and the net effect is that they make decisions in science based primarily on advancing their career. And from a scientific point of view, that most often tends to be careful, simple experiments. As a group that means that they tend to be the people that jump on the bandwagon of the newest, trendiest technique or idea. It isn’t very imaginative, but it’s safe and it can advance a career incrementally.

Then there are the scientists. I liken scientists to artists. That they’re interested in creating new information and new ideas. By definition, it’s a very individualistic endeavor. You can’t be told how to create. It just has to happen. That means that you can’t be constrained by bandwagon ideas and what everyone else is doing. You have to think about the problem yourself and decide what your path will be to answer an interesting question.

Now what happens, of course, is that the creative scientists and their ideas are basically ostracized by the bandwagoneers, because the ideas by definition are unique, not everyone agrees with them. They’re usually creative enough that they’re premature, so from a scientific point of view they can easily be argued against. But, nonetheless, the scientists must stick with that idea and continue to paint until the portrait is finished. Then usually what happens if the artist is correct, is that all the bandwagoneers suddenly go, oh, of course, we knew that’s what it was supposed to be like.

So the scientists in the field of science tend to be loners and lonely and ostracized a lot and fight battles constantly about their ideas and their approach to doing science. The battles are usually fought against the careerists, who say it can’t be done or that you’re flat out wrong because no one else agrees with you.

Tim Tully is a molecular geneticist, interested in finding the genetic and biological basis of memory in order to better identify pharmacological and behavioral treatments for memory loss. In 1981, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. Tully joined the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory staff in 1991 to work on discovering genes involved with memory. He became the St. Giles Foundation Professor of Neuroscience and led the Drosophila learning and memory program. In 1998 he founded Helicon Therapeutics, Inc., a development-stage biotechnology firm that works on new therapies for memory loss and other cognition disorders. In June, 2007, Tully left Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to become Helicon's Acting Chief Scientific Officer, and assume a key role in the Michigan-based Dart Foundation as it expands its interest in funding neuroscience research.

His work on the transcriptional factor CREB gave way to the first experimental demonstration of enhanced memory formation in genetically engineered animals. Tully works to identify genes involved with long-term memory formation. Tully has determined that by the regulation of gene expression, new, long-term memories can be formed due to the growth of new synapses.