Recorded: 06 Sep 2001
…My progression in science is I came to Harvard with a plan on wanting to be a microbiologist. And I was going to go to graduate school, it was very clear to me at the beginning. I was very interested in getting into the laboratory right away and I did a freshman seminar, which was a research opportunity at Harvard in my first year. And I worked in the laboratory for the whole time that I was there, every afternoon. And [there were] two labs I worked in: One was Alfred Lobitz’s (??) lab—I worked on micro-flagellates (??) my first two years. My second two years I worked in Mark Ptashne’s lab on lambda. So that was a really good experience. After that—in my junior year I took a course in DNA tumor viruses. That was my real first introduction to the cancer problem and there are some people whose names have been really important to me over the years because there are these four people who taught this course and I took it. And because of that in my junior year I decided I had to go to medical school because I wanted to work on cancer and I talked to my advisors and they said that if you want to work on cancer you need to know something about human biology. And so I decided to go to medical school my junior year and I ended up attending Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. I did a M.D./Ph.D. program there—took about eight years to get done.
I’ve had great fortune with being at really good schools and having met really good people, really good scientists. So it was there at Hopkins that I ended up choosing Tom Kelley’s lab to do my Ph.D. work in molecular biology and genetics. I worked on cell cycle regulation there. I guess my first introduction to Cold Spring Harbor was as a graduate student. The reason for that is because of—I don’t know if you want to go and talk about this now but natural progressions to Bruce. The first time I heard Bruce Stillman’s name I heard “Stillman.” I only heard the word “Stillman.” And it had to do with some work that was going on in the lab at that time on the SV40 DNA replication, cause there were three laboratories that were in a heated competition for lack of a better word to be the first to establish a system. And I heard Bruce’s name because they had discovered, I guess the first case of a DNA binding protein in the SV40 replication system.
That would have been 1986, 1986 I think so. The next time I heard Bruce’s name was a year later because I was finishing up my graduate work and we were all—the lab was coming to Cold Spring Harbor for the first eukaryotic DNA replication meeting and that meeting was organized by Tom Kelley, my advisor, and Bruce Stillman. And I didn’t work on DNA replication in Tom’s lab, I worked on cell cycle regulation of thymidine kinase and I was sort of on the project where Tom was branching out but most of the people in the laboratory—all of the intensity in the laboratory was on DNA replication. So we had a little bit of a complex about that. And I wanted to talk at this meeting and I talked to Tom about it and Tom said, “Well, you know, its not just up to me. There’s another organizer. I’ll talk to him and see what happens.” And I guess Bruce said yes. Because I came to the meeting and I gave the first talk as a graduate student here at Cold Spring Harbor. And I remember that we drove up together—Tom came separately—but the group drove up together. And I met Bruce Stillman for the first time here. Even though Bruce hasn’t been officially—there’s no official connection between us, I mean he hasn’t been like, you know, my formal mentor/advisor. Over the years I’ve really have—I’ve used him as someone that I can go to, ask for an opinion about my work or something I’ve encountered. I can trust him to give him me an honest evaluation of the situation so I have called on Bruce when I’ve had papers that were being submitted to various journals and I wasn’t sure about the review and I’d call up Bruce and ask him, “What do you think about this?” And he’s always been really good about giving me good advice.
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.