Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bruce Alberts on Learning from Failure

Here's a short talk from my thesis supervisor on learning from failure. He tells the story of how he failed his Ph.D. oral and how he almost gave up writing his textbook.

I was a gradate student in his Princeton lab from 1969-1974. The most important lesson I learned from Bruce was the importance of knowledge and context. He taught a graduate course called "Macromolecules" where he explained both the basic chemistry and the basic biology. The lesson was clear. You can't do good science unless you see the big picture and understand the fundamentals of your discipline. He reminded us almost every day. As he says in the video ...

Theoretical biology is much more important than my generation had imagined. We were misled by the striking success of the 1953 Watson-Crick DNA model.
I also agree with another comment he makes in the video ...
Both book writing and teaching are really important for creative science, I believe.
Bruce also encouraged us to explore topics outside of our research project. This included Jacques Monod's book "Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology" and the writings of the best theoretical biologists of the time. We were encouraged to get involved in politics and society. It was a time of protest and revolution, and scientists had a role to play.