Recorded: 06 Sep 2001
I’m the kind of person who—I can’t remember when I didn’t want to be a scientist. And my recollections of wanting to be a scientist, really the earliest ones come from stories [and] my mom and family members saying that they can remember that when I was a kid I would bring insects and things into the house and they said, “The thing he’s going to be is a scientist!” And I guess my earliest memory of wanting to be a scientist was probably about 7th grade. I mean I have a very clear memory of wanting to be a microbiologist, and the reason I had wanted to be a microbiologist is because my older sister had been—who’s two years ahead of me, was taking classes and learning about bacteria. She was coming home saying, “Bacteria are everywhere!” And I was really interested in that and so I decided I wanted to be a microbiologist and I can remember going to my junior high library to find a book about how to become a microbiologist. That sort of like set the way I approached my career in terms of finding out what I need to do.
…I found a book—
My memory of it—it was sort of a career book, How to Be Different Things and there was a section on what you needed to do to be scientist. It said you had to go to college. I remember it saying that you had to know how to use the library. This became a really important sticking point for me because in school you take chemistry and physics and math, but there was no course of how to use the library. So, of course we got library training in school, but when I was getting ready to go to college I was really concerned about this because there was nothing listed for library science. Of course, I discovered that’s something you figure out on your own. That’s my earliest memory of it. I’ve always wanted to be a scientist since then.
At the time I wanted to be a microbiologist but the book was about again different careers. It was about what you need to do if you’re in junior high school and you want to become a scientist. The things you need to study in high school, the things you need to study in college—yeah.
So I left my home in Memphis, Tennessee and I came to Cambridge to go to Harvard. I attended Harvard University.
James Sherley is a scientist on the forefront of adult stem-cell research. He earned his B.A. from Harvard University and his M.D./Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology (BCMB Program) from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
He was a Principal Investigator in the Division of Medical Science at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is currently a Principal Investigator at the Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health at MIT. His present research is in integrated studies in somatic stem cell kinetics.
Sherley was honored as a Pew Scholar in Biomedical Science in 1993, and in 2001 became a Pew Science and Society Institute Fellow.