Ulf Pettersson on Mentoring
  Ulf Pettersson     Biography    
Recorded: 20 Aug 2003

In those respects, my main contribution I think is that I produced a large umber of graduate students. I think close to thirty people of my students have received their PhDs. And one is Arne Stenlund who is here in Cold Spring Harbor.

I think the question is very complicated. Number one you need to select good students, which is difficult. Sometimes you find that the student you really fought to have in your team turned out to be the greatest disaster. And you really don’t learn what and what—and, of course, there are ways to sort out some, but there’s always surprises. But I think that is very important.

But otherwise I think the important thing is to create an interesting atmosphere, inspiring atmosphere in the lab. And to be a coach, again I think there’s quite a bit a resemblance with sports and doing good science. There are no compromises in quality. And for us in Sweden it’s the research frontier which is that you have to be, and that there is nothing like local standards of science. It’s the international measure that counts.

And, of course, I mean to be a visionary too. To know what will be the important things to do for the future.

I mean the big difference in Sweden is that the working horse in science in Sweden is the graduate student, whereas here it is the postdoc. And that makes it, I think, both positive and negative. The negative thing is that it’s more difficult to take risks. I mean the grad students need to finish in four years, so you give them very difficult and uncertain projects than you may get into trouble. So I think that to kind of sort out that compromises is a very important thing. For the mentor, I mean, to have a challenging project, but also is realistic.

Ulf Pettersson, geneticist and virologist, is the vice-president of the University of Upssala in Sweden, a professor of medical genetics, and a leader of a group on genetic disease in the Department of Genetics and Pathology. His scientific research is focused on finding genes linked with diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

After finishing his medical degree in Sweden and his thesis on adenovirus proteins, he came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He worked as a postdoc alongside Joe Sambrook and Rich Roberts. He researched transcription and the methods by which to grow and extract adenovirus DNA and studied how to use restriction enzymes to map viral chromosomes. His work led to the understanding of how the chromosome is organized and how transcription takes place. In the 80’s he slowly altered his concentration from virology to genetics.

After leaving Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1973 he became a professor of microbiology at the University of Uppsala and then chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics. He was a member of the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) (1992-1998), and is currently a member of both the Finnish Academy of Sciences and the Royal Academy of Sciences.