Bruce Stillman on Meeting Jim Watson
  Bruce Stillman     Biography    
Recorded: 14 Aug 2003

Yes, absolutely [I remember my first meeting with him.] It’s stuck in my brain very clearly. I was a graduate student in Canberra at the Australia National University in Australia. I was there from 1976 to 1978. My supervisor was Alan Bellett who was a fantastic scientist. I learned a lot from him. He was invited to the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium in 1978, and two days before the meeting he got sick and couldn’t come. There was a lot of discussion about whether first of all I, as a graduate student—there were only two graduate students in his laboratory. Alan was supposed to talk about my work. So the issue was whether I could substitute for him, whether Cold Spring Harbor [Laboratory] would let me. And the other was whether I could actually do it. I didn't even have an active passport at that time. So the chairman of the department called Cold Spring Harbor [Laboratory]. I think he spoke to Ahmad Bukhari who was co-organizing the meeting with Tom Broker and Jim [Watson.] And they quite nicely said "Yes," I could come and speak in his place. And then what happened is—we were in the national capital in Canberra, so through connections that people had, I got whisked away to the Department of Defense and got a passport in almost no time at all. Then we went straight to the American Embassy and I got a visa, just like that. And that day I left. Actually, because of the international date line, I arrived in Hawaii the same day that I got my visa, which was bizarre because you have to fly through Hawaii. I arrived at Kennedy [Airport] at 5:30 in the morning after flying from Sydney, and got to Cold Spring Harbor on a Thursday, the morning after the meeting started. When I got out here I went to the first session that started at 9:00. And that day I sat all the way through the sessions until 11:30 at night because I was absolutely wired, so I didn't have to sleep. I first met Jim at the coffee break that morning. He was talking to Arthur Kornberg. I wanted to go and thank him for—I mean I had never met him, I’d never been in Cold Spring Harbor. But I wanted to thank him for allowing me to come. There was an opportunity. He was just standing there and I just happened to be near him, so I went up and introduced myself. Then he introduced me to Arthur Kornberg. I didn’t know it was Arthur Kornberg. He had spoken the evening before but I wasn’t there. And so I met Jim and Arthur at the same time. It’s kind of very bizarre because Jim and Arthur Kornberg are so different, scientifically. I mean they are poles apart. And yet, both extremely influential. So I’ll never forget that.

Molecular biologist and biochemist, Bruce Stillman, received his Ph.D. from the John Curtain School of Medical Research at the Australian National University in 1979. His long affiliation with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory began in 1979 when he arrived as a postdoctoral fellow. He became a member of the scientific staff (1981), Senior Scientist (1985), Assistant Director (1990), Director and Chief Executive Officer (1994), and President (2003), the position he currently holds. Stillman has also been Director of the Cancer Center at CSHL since 1992.

His research concerns DNA replication, yeast genetics, cell cycle and chromatin structure. His work has elucidated the reason why DNA sequences and silenced states of chromatin are pass through generations. His lab is concerned with understanding the mechanisms and regulation of DNA replication in eukaryotic cells, a process that ensures accurate duplication and inheritance of genetic material from one cell generation to the next.

Bruce Stillman has received numerous awards and honors and research awards. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (1993), and as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (2000).