Recorded: 08 Aug 2001
It was the easiest thing to do in school. It was the thing I always found easy to do. And the classes that were the most interesting. I don’t have very profound reason for doing that. Actually the most amusing story that I have for why I became a scientist had to do with when I was trying not to be a scientist. After high school I went to university and to a liberal arts college.
This was a small liberal arts college in Oregon even though I was from California. After the first term they asked me to join the honors liberal arts program which took up half the time and there was only room for two other courses and so I took political science and biology figuring that I wasn’t necessarily going to fill myself up with science and math courses. But I found that the most important use of my physical or my political science books was to put them down so that I could fall asleep at night. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my head resting on my political science books. And when finals came that first term there was a flu bug going around so a number of us didn’t take any finals. When I came back after Christmas, I went in and they had oral finals. So when I went to talk to my political science professor we had an oral final and he said, “You’re not really a liberal arts person, are you? I looked at your high school transcript and you took all science courses.” And I said, “Yes. I didn’t think that I wanted to limit myself to just science.” And he said, “Well, I think you might be wrong there and you probably ought to go back to that and if I give you a “B” so it doesn’t affect your average, will you promise to never take any more political science courses.” So I said, “Yes.”
In the following semester I had five laboratories every afternoon and went back to just taking required English and the rest science and math. So that’s how I got started professionally. And I just enjoyed the conversations of the members of the biology department. So, it was pretty simple. I did try not to for a while.
James Hicks is a pioneer in the field of yeast genetics. He earned his Ph.D. degree in molecular biology and genetics from the University of Oregon, working with Ira Herskowitz.
Hicks researched with Jeff Strathern and Amar Klar in the Cold Spring Harbor Yeast group from 1977 to 1984 where they made outstanding discoveries about the mechanism of mating type switching in yeast.
Hicks is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of ViroGenomics, a Portland biotech company that is searching for new treatments for chronic and acute viral disease.