Nancy Hopkins on Jim Watson, Writer: The Molecular Biology of the Gene
  Nancy Hopkins     Biography    
Recorded: 09 Apr 2001

He picked out a group of his former students [with] whom he had this kind of shared rapport about science. We all were on the same wavelength. We had always been, I think, although I wouldn’t have known which were students. He picked those who were able to write fairly easily. And also it was clear every one of these people shared with him the same kind of scientific relationship that I did.

We always knew his ability to get to the heart of the matter, to see the important point. We believed in it. We’ve seen it over the years, and he was always right, almost always right, and had this ability to make the essence of the thing apparent and exciting. And so we all had this absolute confidence in him. And so when you make a team of people who are going to write a book together, if they don’t have that towards each other, it can be a rocky road, I suspect. We all had that about us, that we had a shared confidence. We loved the book. We believed in the book. We knew it had been a great textbook of its time and we all believed in his continuing judgment and his ability to make it come out right somehow. It turns out that he has this writing style and you learn to do this: we called this “Watsonizing.” So you can write a thing and then you can go through and Watsonize it to make it sound like that style. And it is a super style, and it became a style in which many textbooks now are written, to a large extent and the way he formatted The Molecular Biology of the Gene, which was revolutionary when he did it, has become a kind standard of the industry. So it was a terrific experience and there were never any difficulties. We all counted on him to make the arrangements with the publisher, so to do all that he again was our mentor and leader. It was a natural thing. He read all the chapters. We related to him and he set the tone and content in that sense. It was a lot of fun, a lot more work then we thought it was going to be, I must say, but it was fun.

Nancy Hopkins is a developmental biologist and the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at MIT. Working under Jim Watson and Mark Ptashne, Hopkins earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1971. As a postdoctoral fellow she moved to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where she continued working under Watson researching DNA tumor viruses. In 1973 she joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in the Center for Cancer Research, where she researched the mechanisms of replication and leukemogenesis by RNA tumor viruses for 17 years.

Hopkins has also led an ongoing effort to end discrimination against women in science. In 1995 she was appointed Chair of the first Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science at MIT, and in 2000 she was appointed Co-Chair of the first Council on Faculty Diversity at MIT. Hopkins co-authored the fourth edition of Molecular Biology of the Gene. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.