Leroy Hood on Mentoring
  Leroy Hood     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jun 2003

Well, I think the most important features of the teacher are one: to bring out in each of your students their best and to encourage them to be what they can be. I mean different students have different attitudes and different capacities and different potentialities. And I think it is part of the role of the mentor to guide them so they can most successfully execute their full potential.

But having said that I have really strong feelings about—I think it’s also the role of a mentor to be available and to be willing to talk and discuss things. But it’s also very important that students figure out how to do things themselves. So in my laboratory we’ve always had a rich laboratory with many different projects going on. And when new students, grad students or postdocs came in we would discuss a wide range of problems and they generally could choose where they wanted to go. But I very, very much encouraged them to figure out how to do the problem themselves. I think that too many times I see a mentor who kind of tells the student how they’d do the problem. If they do that the student can maybe do the problem in the beginning a little better, but they won’t learn—in the end they won’t fulfill their own potentialities. So I think students really have to take on those problems. You have to push them out of the nest. And you have to encourage them to do things themselves.

I think the other two points I would make to students is always practice things at the leading edge. Do things that are really interesting. You know, there are kind of the catalogers and the librarians and there are the people that are kind of inventing the future. And you know, to the extent that you can, I think that you should get out and invent the future and think about the new things. Don’t be afraid. Let the problem drive you rather than the technologies.

So be willing to learn whatever you need to do to solve the biology problem. I mean I think what’s very interesting at this meeting at Cold Spring Harbor now on the human genome is how many people are driven by the technology. And they’ve really lost sight of—it’s the biology that’s the fundamental problem. And what the genome has done is given us wonderful technologies and wonderful parts lists and all these things so we can do biology in a way we’ve never done it before. But too many people are just entranced with sequencing more genomes and doing more DNA arrays studies, so you always should be asking yourself, and you should always be driven by biological questions.

Leroy Hood, a leading scientist in molecular biotechnology and genomics, received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins Medical School (1964) and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Caltech (1968). In 1992, after more than 20 years as a faculty member at Caltech, where he and his colleagues revolutionized genomics by developing automated DNA sequencing, he relocated to the University of Washington to establish the cross-disciplinary Department of Molecular Biotechnology.

Dr. Hood is currently President of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle where he leads efforts to pioneer systems approaches to biology and medicine. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has received the Lasker Award for his studies on the mechanism of immune diversity.

Sharing an interest in the study of antibody diversity, Hood and Watson met in 1967 when Hood attended his first meeting at CSHL. Leroy has been working on the genome since the late 70’s. He went to the first official genome meeting in Santa Cruz in 1985 and has attended all of the subsequent meetings which have been held at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.