SA: And what do you do when you don't do science?
RM: A lot of things. My wife and I like to go out in the country, and we like hiking, and we trout-fish together, so we like to do that whenever we can. Our favorite spontaneous thing to do here, since we moved to New York, is just walk in New York; it's a very interesting place. So that's the thing we do a real lot, you know, that's the thing we do a few times a week, just to relax. Just walking, and to walk in a different neighborhood.
SA: Why did you leave Harvard to come to Rockefeller? Were there financial reasons, apart from just making a fresh start?
RM: Some actually, yes. It's interesting that you ask that in that way, because usually I say a fresh start is good enough; it's a big component of it. So I was at Harvard for about six years, and there are a few reasons, I think, why I changed.
The first is, as I indicated earlier, I think change is a good thing. I find I get fixed in my ways if I don't change. I think I take too many things for granted. I end up thinking I know too much if I don't change; I end up being too comfortable, and so I am not on my toes. So in a sense a general change, periodically, is a good thing. So that was one factor that went into my move.
Another factor was, I was in the middle of this transition on techniques, so I was moving from doing pure electrophysiology and molecular biology to also adopting crystallography. And if there is going to be a time to change the environment, that would seem to me a good time, because in the environment I was, I think there were certain expectations about what I did. And people who came to work with me certainly didn't come to do structural biology, because I had no reputation at that. So I just thought it might be an opportune time to change since I was changing, at least adopting, a whole new set of techniques that were quite time-consuming.
So when I visited Rockefeller, this was through Torsten Wiesel, who was president at the time. He had me come; he knew what I wanted to do and thought this would be a good place to do it. I knew him from a scientific organization that I was part of called the Pew Scholars Program, and I explained to him what I really wanted to do, and he thought it was a great idea and that Rockefeller would be a good place to do it. So I came here, and I admitted, I liked it very much. Rockefeller seemed like a nice place to work; Harvard is very nice, too, but it seemed like if I was leaving Harvard, this would also be a nice place to be.
And then, I think finally, to do completely new research that you are not known for, you have to get funded somehow, and Rockefeller made a commitment to me, to work at least for a number of years on this problem the best that I could do. And fortunately, about a year after coming here, I became a Howard Hughes investigator, so that was fantastic.
SA: Oh, I thought you were that before you came here.
RM: No, I was never a Hughes before coming here. In fact, the first year here, I was not a Hughes investigator. I was operating on the NIH grants, and, in fact, I knew if I had applied just to the NIH and said, "Here is what I am gonna do," I bet you I wouldn't have got a penny to do it.
SA: What do you think about the NIH funding risky projects, long-term projects, or not funding them at all?