Peter Little on Teaching Science
  Peter Little     Biography    
Recorded: 30 May 2003

To be a really good teacher, I think, the most important thing is to understand what it is that you are trying to teach very deeply. So what you are trying to do is to lead people up to what you know and beyond as fast as possible. And so if you think very carefully through what it is that you know and try and structure it in a way so that it becomes accessible. There’s a tendency to teach people the simple things and then the harder things and the harder things. That actually isn’t very intelligent if you think it through because if you teach people the simple things and they don’t understand the excitement of the hard stuff at the end.

So somehow along the line you have to inculcate the excitement of what you are doing without people being able to have all of the vocabulary and all they need to know about it. So there’s a terrible tendency to start really simply and build it up and build it up and build it up. And by the time you get to the end, you’re exhausted. So that the greatest fun that you can have is to take people who know very little and try to teach them about genetics. I think that’s hugely challenging, but its great fun to do because they’re enthusiastic to know. And just to learn the tricks as to how to try and get the excitement across and simplify without losing the meaning. And I think that’s true of a mentor in a mentor relationship with serious scientists as well; to have somebody who knows what’s important in science.

Peter Little is a bioinformatics researcher, professor of medical biochemistry and the head of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. He received his Ph.D. working with recombinant DNA under Ed Southern and Peter Walker at Edinburgh University. In 1976, Little cloned a human gene – the second time this was ever accomplished.

Little’s laboratory studies the genetic basis of gene expression, and genetic variation as it pertains to the regulatory regions of the genes. He has hypothesized that there are two types of genetic variation that alter gene expression. His lab has also created advanced techniques for testing genetically influenced transcript variations.

He comes to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory regularly for genome meetings and symposia.

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