Eric Lander on If I Did Not Become a Scientist
  Eric Lander     Biography    
Recorded: 02 Jun 2003

If I didn't do science what would I do? Oh, you know, given how accidental it was that I did science. It was totally accidental. I wandered into this long path that I've written about. I could have done anything.

What I would want to do, that's a different story than what I might have done. I could easily become a lawyer. I remember the time I took the LSATs and thought about being a lawyer. I'd be a very good lawyer. I'd be miserable. I'd just be absolutely miserable.

My wife, you know, is an attorney. She and I have discussed it. I'd be afraid I'd be just terrible because the thing is I'd have all the argument and passion but without caring about it.

I'm a fighter, but I wouldn't be fighting about anything that mattered. That would be terrible. Fighting about hollow things would be just terrible. So I have no idea. I have no idea.

I knew I didn't want to be a pure mathematician because it wasn't social enough. It wasn't interactive enough. You know, for me who is a passionate arguer, pure mathematics just didn't do it and I didn't know what I wanted to do. That's how I wandered through these different careers. I stumbled into biology. Whatever it would have been, it would have been very social. It would have been somewhat quantitative and based on reasoning. I'm just really happy- that my brother suggested I get into this. That David Botstein, you know, came along at the right moment. That Jim invited me to Cold Spring Harbor for the '86 symposium.

People talk about evolution. Stephen Gould writes about contingency and evolution and how, you know, the result today is the result of all these little random events. They didn't have to happen this way. They weren't absolutely determined. My entire life is a testament to the contingency theory here.

Eric Lander earned his A.B. in mathematics from Princeton University (1978) and D.Phil. in mathematics as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University (1981).

He first came to the Whitehead Institute as a Whitehead Fellow in 1986, while still an assistant professor of managerial economics at the Harvard Business School and is currently Director of the Whitehead Center for Genome Research and Professor of Biology at MIT. As director of the Whitehead Center for Genome Research, Dr Lander has been one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, contributing 30 percent of the total sequence of the human genome and developing and making freely available many of the key tools used in modern mammalian genomics.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and has been awarded the Beckman Prize for Lab Automation, the Chiron Prize for Biotechnology, and the Gairdner Award for his outstanding contribution to genomic research.

Lander has attended every human genome meeting at CSHL. At the request of Jim Watson, Lander gave his first lecture at the 1986 CSHL symposium on the Molecular Biology of Homo Sapiens.

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