16 June 2010

James Watson: how to become a Nobel laureate?

One of the greatest biologists of the last century came to Moscow for the second time and, among other things, delivered a public lecture at the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University (for a report on the lecture delivered in the summer of 2008, see the article "Visit of Dr. Watson"). Among the students, scientists and journalists gathered for the current lecture of the Nobel laureate were GZT correspondents.RU and "Tapes". Everyone has heard in words Watson has something of his own.

Nobel laureate urged Russians to work on SundaysAlexey Tymoshenko, GZT.RU
James Watson, the discoverer of the structural formula of DNA, arrived in Moscow.

In his opinion, genetically modified foods are completely safe, and for success in science it is necessary to work on Sunday.

"This is not for me, but for the chemists"

James Watson, Nobel Prize winner, head of the Human Genome program, is considered by many scientists to be one of the greatest biologists of the last century. And although the venerable age (82 years) does not allow the researcher to conduct equally active work, he willingly shares the secret of a successful scientific career. Moreover, the topic of his lecture sounded like this: "The rules that allow you to become a scientist and remain one."

The shape of the molecule
Watson received the Nobel Prize for the fact that, together with physicist Francis Crick, he established the structural formula of DNA: the method of X-ray diffraction analysis showed that the molecule has the shape of a double helix. But since the length of this spiral reaches several centimeters, then inside the cell the spiral strand of DNA is rolled into a ball, the detailed structure of which is being studied already today.

After the professor told the students and graduate students about how to get into the number of the largest researchers, it was the turn of questions and answers. In which Watson demonstrated loyalty to rational cognition.

He is not afraid to eat GMOs – moreover, he believes that artificial restrictions on the development of genetic engineering have a detrimental effect on Russia. To an even greater extent, however, on the USA – and in the end, according to the scientist, China will be ahead of the whole planet (it is unlikely that a person who has given half his life to American laboratories likes this prospect).

A gene is a fragment of DNA that is responsible for encoding an RNA molecule. RNA either serves as a matrix for protein synthesis, or is active by itself (for example, in ribosomes). And the "genetic code" is the rules by which nucleotides (the blocks from which DNA is built) correspond to amino acids (the "building blocks" of proteins). Watson, speaking about his work on June 15, 2010, emphasized the merits of the Russian-born American physicist Georgy Gamov, it was Gamov who proposed the idea that three nucleotides encode one amino acid.

He does not deal with those areas in which he does not understand, and does not undertake to make revolutions in several branches of science at the same time. When asked about the origin of DNA, he honestly said — this is not a question for him, but for chemists. According to Watson, where the molecules came from is an exclusively chemical question and specialists should deal with it. As a biologist, he can only name two hypotheses: the RNA world and the introduction of DNA molecules from outer space.
What does it have to do with gays and Scientologists?

Some questions caused laughter in the audience – for example, the "father of molecular biology" was asked whether he sees a connection between the choice of professions of a designer and a florist with sexual orientation (no, he does not). Then he was asked about his attitude to the book "Dianetics" by Ron Hubbard (the founder of the Scientology sect), and received the answer: "I haven't read it."

But the questions asked at the very beginning became an absolute hit – about which girls he liked and which woman could become the wife of a Nobel laureate. "This woman... well, someone like you," the scientist replied.

– How to get a promising research team? – Mm... maybe just give them food?

Tips for students

The recommendations given by Watson to young scientists and those who are just going to become a researcher deserve a separate retelling. The recognized master of world science believes that the main thing is a good education. It was the right education, according to the scientist, that allowed him to discover the structural formula of DNA and become a world celebrity.

But "correct" does not mean just a diploma from Moscow State University in Russia or Oxford in the UK. Waston urges you to focus on interesting courses for yourself and not waste time on unnecessarily detailed disciplines. In his opinion, in the course of training, a future scientist needs to learn how to answer the questions "why", not "how".

Missing facts can be deduced if you understand where they come from, says the researcher. In history, for example, many events logically follow from each other, as well as in biology. It is contraindicated to memorize these facts, excellent students who have memorized do not always become excellent scientists.

During the course of training, it is necessary to more or less determine the topic and narrow the field of your work, in graduate school it is worth following related industries, and it is vital for a specialist with an academic degree to communicate with colleagues of equal level. Choosing the right team is an urgent topic for Watson after the book Avoid Boring People. Its name can be translated in two ways: avoid means "avoid", people means "people", but boring means both the adjective "boring" and the verb "boring". The lecture was delivered by the scientist in English, but he kindly explained this wordplay for the Russian-speaking audience, who mostly listened to him without translation and at the same time could not appreciate the language nuance.

Communication with equals, the ability to choose a bright, promising and not hackneyed topic is not everything. Watson was no stranger to a sense of humor: he also advised working on Sundays, because "if you don't do work at this time, then what else can you do?". But at the end of the summer, in his opinion, it is impossible to work at all, since it is contrary to the very nature of man. And in Russia, according to the biologist, the last rule is especially relevant.

Ask me how
The discoverer of the double helix told how to succeedIrina Yakutenko, <url>

On Tuesday, June 15, a lecture by James Watson, Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine, discoverer of the DNA structure, was held in Moscow.

Instead of "loading" the audience with stories about complex scientific research, the famous scientist presented to the audience the rules of success – the very ones that allowed him to become who he is. Below we present these rules with a few comments.

The name of James Watson is known even to those who are far from biology. Perhaps, among biologists, Charles Darwin can compete with Watson and his colleague Francis Crick in fame. In 1953, Watson and Crick published a tiny article in the journal Nature, in which they suggested that DNA is a double helix, and explained their assumptions (the pdf article is here) – and almost immediately became famous.

The determination of the structure of DNA was a turning point, shortly after which biology began to operate on the genetic characteristics of organisms and turned from a descriptive science into a science investigating the underlying causes of observed phenomena. Watson was one of the first scientists to realize the "power" of DNA, and this is partly why he succeeded, although after discovering the structure of DNA, he practically did not do science. But it was Watson who initiated the Human Genome project to decipher the DNA sequence of Homo sapiens, and besides, for 40 years he led an extremely successful scientific institute – the Cold Spring Harbor laboratory. If we try to characterize Watson's achievements in one sentence, then this sentence will be like this: he has always been able to guess exactly what it is worth doing to get a brilliant result.

In his lecture, Watson confirmed that all his life he tried to work exactly where he could count on success, and tried to explain the algorithm for catching the tail of scientific luck. Let's try to briefly summarize the rules proposed by Watson. The first of them is to start the path to the top from the earliest stages of education, that is, from school and college (in Russian realities, high school can be considered a college – and this is how we will write further).

High school classesAccording to Watson, the last years at school are not needed at all for memorizing formulas or preparing for university entrance exams.

High school is a time and a place to learn to think, and knowledge will come later. Speaking of knowledge, Watson separately noted that he ignored a considerable number of subjects in college, and advised students to do the same. The scientist ignored those subjects that he did not like and was not given, for example, mathematics, but actively attended courses where he received only good grades. The explanation for such a strange approach to learning is simple – in recent years, before the institute, a person has a wonderful opportunity to decide what is really interesting to him, and distraction to foreign objects when realizing this important moment greatly hinders, especially if you need to spend time and effort to comprehend these subjects.

Such an unconventional view of the value of school disciplines should inevitably lead to difficulties in exams. To overcome them, Watson offers a simple mercantile recipe: in order to pass an exam or answer well in a lesson, it is necessary to understand how the teacher thinks and show him exactly the knowledge that the teacher wants to get. It is not entirely clear how to implement such a way of answering in, say, physics lessons, but if you follow Watson's logic, then it is not necessary to get high scores in physics if a person wants to become, for example, a biologist.

Another task that a student of the last grades of school should solve is to find smart friends and teachers who appreciate his intelligence. These people are not necessary at all to amuse vanity (although for this too) – they are an additional tool for gaining new knowledge and finding the right ways of development. You can learn a lot from smart friends, and a teacher who pays tribute to the abilities of a student will give him good advice on occasion.

Finally, the most important milestone that needs to be passed in school is the restructuring of the brain to search for the causes of the phenomena occurring, and not just to memorize how these phenomena occur. In other words, a future scientist should give up empty cramming – the favorite technique of most excellent students, which is completely useless outside of school.

So, the ideal graduate of the Watson school is a person with a properly tuned brain, who has clearly determined what he wants to do at the institute, and has a solid knowledge base on this topic. What should he do next?

InstituteBefore giving Watson's instructions on studying at a university, it is worth emphasizing that the Western education system is very different from ours:

there, an integral part of obtaining higher education is the constant implementation of independent research projects. In Russia, the implementation of term papers and theses can be considered an analogue of such projects, so Watson's rules are quite applicable to Russian realities.

In general, Watson advises undergraduates and graduate students not to focus only on their topics. Firstly, usually these topics are very highly specialized and only allow you to master certain methods of work. And secondly, there are no miracles - intuition, with the help of which you can feel a promising direction, can develop only if you have an extensive scientific outlook. By the way, Watson said that he stopped believing in miracles at the age of ten, and then abandoned faith in God. "I have not found a single reason why God should exist," the scientist explained.

If possible, the student should try to carry out course and diploma projects with a young supervisor who may not have solid scientific achievements yet, but who has not yet become hardened and has not turned into a conservative deaf to new ideas, developing one or two topics he found in immemorial times. With a high probability, a young ambitious specialist will have a vile character and a disgusting reputation, since he will be busy trying to break through in the scientific world and he will have to constantly overcome the resistance of mastodons resting on their laurels. This nuisance Waston advises to take for granted – you can take it as a payment for your future success.

By the way, it is better to write term papers and a diploma from different supervisors and on different topics – this technique will allow the student not to get stuck in one, possibly unsuccessful, direction. In the West, where the regular change of laboratory specialists is not only frequent, but simply mandatory for a career, there are no problems with finding a new supervisor. In Russia, a student who wants to transfer to another degree, and even a young researcher, will have to run pretty hard.

In parallel with the performance of the first independent work at the institute, it is worth pulling up those courses that the student following Watson's rules so diligently avoided at school. You can't go anywhere – it won't work without mathematics to become a qualified biologist, but now a biologist will delve into this mysterious science meaningfully, well understanding why exactly he needs it.

PhD thesisFinally, having chosen the right laboratory, a person begins to work on a PhD thesis.

This is already a much more serious job, but, according to Watson, the graduate student is still studying first of all. In order to make this process as effective as possible, a young specialist needs to communicate as much as possible with his senior colleagues, especially with those who are called "brilliant" in the West.

Oddly enough, with close communication, it may turn out that brilliant pundits adhere to completely banal views on life. This is not a reason to stop contacting them, Watson warns. To meet an outstanding scientist and an interesting person in one person is a great success, and you should not count on it. But once a person has achieved something in science, it means that as a scientist he thinks outside the box, and this skill is worth learning from him.

Own scientific researchThis is where real science begins, and the most important question that a newly–minted candidate of sciences faces is what to do.

In Russia, it is most often answered as follows: the same as during the candidate's dissertation, and even in the same laboratory (unless, of course, the young candidate goes abroad). According to Watson, this approach is categorically wrong – when choosing a topic for independent work, you need to fully include the same scientific flair that should have been developed by a person following the strategy described above.

To the question of the correspondent of "Lenta.On what topics Watson himself considers promising for scientific work, the scientist called the search for the genetic basis of hereditary diseases, as well as the identification of genetic factors that determine the nature of outstanding abilities for something, for example, mathematics or music. In addition, Watson included in this list the creation of new methods of working with DNA extracted from fossil samples.

Intuition should tell the future successful researcher in which scientific direction it is possible to achieve significant results in the next three to five years. At the same time, the topic should not be very easy – on the contrary, a scientist should choose tasks large enough to feel special. But the sense of the importance of the topic can be deceptive, and besides, working alone takes too much time – therefore, it is best to work on the topic together with a person whose mental abilities the researcher does not doubt and who also believes in the prospects of the chosen topic.

The main assistants in the scientific research of a pair of potential Nobel laureates should be their competitors. Watston advises scientists to keep in touch with those who go toe-to-toe with them in every possible way. Of course, communicating with competitors, you can blurt out too much to them, but they can do the same. While searching for the structure of DNA, Watson and Crick tried in every possible way to find out what Linus Pauling was doing – a man who identified one of the typical protein structures and then closely engaged in DNA. Pauling, who, according to Watson, "behaved like a god and did not want anyone's help," went the wrong way and offered a false model of the structure of DNA. But it was familiarity with the erroneous Pauling model that led Crick and Watson to the idea of the correct organization of the main molecule of the XX century.

In his lecture, Watson used Pauling's example to illustrate how a scientist should not behave. "Never be the brightest person present, otherwise you will have no one to ask for advice," he explained. Watson did not advise to get conceited for another reason: it is quite possible that the chosen topic will be a dead end, or competitors will still be faster. In this case, the scientist will have to look for a new topic and at the same time a new job, and the search will be much more effective if the researcher has not scared away all his acquaintances with his arrogance.

ResumeOf course, all the rules listed above are not a panacea, necessarily leading a person to scientific success.

Moreover, some of them may seem strange or even unacceptable to someone. The only thing we know is that they helped at least one person get to the top. So these recommendations, or some of them, can be adopted, and it seems that they are suitable not only for future scientists, but in general for everyone who wants to achieve something.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru16.06.2010


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