60-Second Science

Nobelist Smithies Shares Thesis on Theses

At the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany, 2007 Nobelist Oliver Smithies told the assembled students about what he learned from his thesis project, which was never once cited. Steve Mirsky reports

Oliver Smithies won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2007. On June 27th, he spoke to students [at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting] about what he learned from his thesis research, which involved developing a new method to measure the osmotic pressures of mixes of proteins:

"Here's my osmotic pressure measurement. And I was rather proud of this method. And I published it with great delight. This paper has a record, you know: nobody ever quoted it. And nobody ever used the method again. And I didn't use the method again. So I have to ask you, what was the point of it all? Well, the answer is really a very serious answer. The answer is I learned to do good science. But it didn't matter what I did when I was learning to do good science. So it doesn't matter what you do when you're doing a thesis, you see. But it's very important that you enjoy it. Because if you don't enjoy it, you won't do a good job and you won't learn science. So all of this comes around to the fact that if you don't enjoy what you're doing, ask your advisors to let you do something else. And if your advisor won't do that, there's another solution: change your advisor."

--Steve Mirsky

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.] 


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