BAZELL: We have some brilliant students here. What is going to be different for them in terms of the practice of biology--if that's what they choose to do--from what has been in your career?
POLLACK: I'd like to answer that as a person who went to college, studied physics, got a Ph.D. in biology, worked as a professor in three medical schools, worked at Cold Spring Harbor with James Watson, came to Columbia, became a dean, and now writes books. I have had, you might say, an inability to hold a job for a very long time. And you will all have that obligation to not hold one job, I would say. The great success that you will have is in the flexibility of finding ways to use your intelligence and not be strapped to a technology of the past.
I decided a few years ago no longer to run my laboratory, because I saw the obligation of following the technology as occupying too much of my time. But I think the gift of youth is that the technology that to me is too much bother to learn is the first technology you'll learn. And you should not be tied to it. You should, I think, lead this revolution by putting the primacy of ideas in front of the attractions of any single technology. If you change your careers five times, as I did, I think that will be all to the good. If you don't, you'll be working for somebody else and doing what you're told.
GRIFFIN: One of the challenges in the future is to be able to combine disciplines. Biotechnology is one of those areas where you need a combination of skills--certainly, in our field, an ability as a molecular biologist to understand bioinformatics. Very different skills and expertise are something that we would treasure. Besides moving with the technologies as they develop, an ability to span from one technology to another is going to be a of great help for new scientists.
BLOOM: I don't know why I'm into atom bomb metaphors today, but Leo Szilard has this wonderful line that says, "An optimist is someone who believes the future is uncertain." That's why you go into science: the curiosity about what you don't know. That is one of the great human gifts for people who have it, who just want to go and follow their nose and do experiments. If I were to give advice, it's very hard to go into work in a bank (I think; I've never worked in a bank) and get up in the morning and decide I'm going to do something new and different every day. That's what I do. I've done that for 36 years. Every day is a new day, and I can't imagine any other way to make a living, or even not make a living. I can't imagine doing anything else.
Things are so fast, things are so automated--with pressures for profits and whatever--that you can lose the most important thing in science, and that is simply the wonder of this universe. If you keep that wonder, it's what keeps you going. The enthusiasm, the excitement, when 99 experiments fail and that one dinky experiment gets you to the next level: That's worth the whole year, and that's the wonder of science. I would urge people to sit down once in a while and say, "Do I really appreciate this universe?"
Photo Credits: Edison: U.S. Department of the Interior; National Park Service Edison National Historic Site