Herr & Noller on Noller as a Teacher and Mentor
  Herr & Noller     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jun 2001

Winship Herr: But, I remember, so, if one were to talk about how I joined your lab. As you know I would have probably gone to Cedric Davern's lab, the former assistant director of Cold Spring Harbor Lab.

Winship Herr: Cedric Davern. He was a geneticist, a phage geneticist, he and John Cairns worked together. But he was on sabbatical the year that I had for working in a lab. And so I knew that and I was taking Harry’s biochemistry course. The thing that was—so, Cedric was a great lecturer and he worked out of this Gunther Stent textbook on, I think, on genetics and it was great. But he was – he was a polished performer as a lecturer, and Harry is anything but a polished performer as a lecturer.

Winship Herr: Especially twenty-nine years ago….

Winship Herr: The reason for the choice [to work with Noller rather than Davern] was that what Cedric Davern was teaching me was essentially out of the textbook, and what Harry was teaching me was essentially out of his lab. I mean, most of what he was lecturing from one day to the next was just a different element of what he was working on in the lab. At least that’s the way I recall it. I mean, there was obviously much more. Harry Noller: I used the lectures to learn.

Winship Herr: Right, so you would go read the literature…

Harry Noller: I had to learn RNA and nucleic acid biochemistry and so I was forcing myself to learn it to teach about it. I was reading those papers pretending like I knew what I was talking about.

Winship Herr: So he, as you saw from the picture, used to have long hair. And as I remember it, the course was at ten in the morning, which for many people on Harry's time clock, it was probably like a five o’clock in the morning lecture. I can only imagine that he was racing down the mountain roads of Santa Cruz in his Porsche to get to class on time. He would walk in at around ten o’clock and his hair would sort of be almost covering his face and he would mumble. But what he mumbled was spectacular; it just made my imagination fly. I remember exactly where I asked you if I could work in your lab, because it was in the Thimann building at the bottom of the stairwell where the vending machines used to be and the classroom was right, just there. And so after class we were walking out and I asked if I could work in your lab. You said, “Well, let me think about it.” No, actually you said I could.

Winship Herr: It’s actually very depressing. I think because I – I mean, you know, I can’t imagine that Jim Watson was an outstanding lecturer, but I’m sure he was an outstanding teacher. I mean, he’s been a great teacher for me and he’s greatly influenced me in getting me to do the important experiment. It comes back and back again.

I try, in teaching I actually videotape my lectures so that I can look and see how I’m doing. That’s depressing, because I look at myself and I say “uh,” you know, every other sentence. I work on using the blackboard well, and covering… I suspect, I’m really going up the wrong river on this, because I don’t know that I’m really turning people on. And the thing—actually this morning I was thinking about this. Having Harry in town, it’s dredged up all these things and that made me think. And we had, from my point of view, one of the—absolutely the best group meetings because we’re getting ready for a site visit in a few weeks, so we have to have our latest. And we’re going around the table and every person is talking: “What could we have at the site visit?” and stuff like that. And we’re really moving and imagining how things will work and what the experiments and we had a lot of good ideas. But in the back of my mind, I wasn’t clear that anybody in that room besides me was really excited. I don’t know—it’s hard to know. I don’t know how you felt. Did you, maybe you could encourage me by saying that well, actually Winship, when you were in the lab I didn’t think you were interested enough? I don’t know.

Harry Noller: I was excited about things and you were too, every day. Most of the people in the lab were; the ones who weren’t just got left behind. There was always a core, a few of us that were… Winship Herr: Obviously there are some who do great, but…

Winship Herr, director of the University of Lausanne School of Biology and member of EMBO. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of California in 1974 and Ph.D. for studies on recombinant retroviruses in leukemogenic mice with Walter Gilbert from Harvard University in 1982. He completed his postdoctoral research studies in Cambridge (England) with Frederick Sanger and with Joe Sambrook in Cold Spring Harbor. After that he joined the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory faculty in 1984. From 1994 till 2002 he was an assistant director of the Laboratory and founding dean of the Watson School of Biological Sciences from 1998 till 2004. He is a professor of the Center for Integrative Genomics at the University of Lausanne.

Winship Herr is a former National Science Foundation predoctoral fellow, Rita Allen Foundation Scholar, Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellow, and Lita Annenberg Hazen Professor of Biological Sciences.

Harry Noller, is best known for his work on on ribosomal RNA structure and function, currently the director of the University of California, Santa Cruz's Center for the Molecular Biology of RNA. He received his B.S. in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Oregon.

He received the Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Sciences together with Drs. Moore and Steitz for their research on the ribosome. Harry Noller has been awarded Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize granted by the Paul Ehrlich Foundation. He is a member of National Academy of Science, RNA Society and American Academy of Art and Science.