Self-education: Key for Research- an exclusive interview with Prof. Sidney Brenner, Nobel Laureate- 16th Dec 2008

Q. What was the inspiration for your research career
in biology?
A. Well, I have always been interested in nature and
finding out how things work. And you can say that, that’s
what I wanted to do and as far as I can think back, I
wanted to be a scientist. So that’s the driving force.
All the rest of it is a nuisance, like writing exams. Most
schools and universities kill the interest...basically it is
self-education where too many students do not have to
go to too many courses to learn something. So, I feel it’s
self-education that is the important thing, which allows
you to be independent in every field.

Q. Who are the people who inspired you in this
direction?
A. I have no inspiration. In short, there was not anybody
whom I liked, but basically it was reading books. A book
called ‘Science of Life’ tells about everything in three
volumes.
Q. How do you think research in biology has changed
over the years?
A. Too much. There is too much data without
interpretation. Undigested....it has to be resolved.
That’s a problem we have to face. It is not as easy as a
simple measurement. It is harder to think than to do.

Q. What do you think is the direction of research that
young scientists should take?
A. I can’t tell. But you should identify a problem that
is important - a big problem – which may not be solved
directly. But you cannot get a big problem directly so
you have to find an entry point and look at a smaller
picture to begin with while keeping the big picture in
mind.

Q. Genes and genomes are being patented today. What
do you think about it?
A. A patent is a monopoly given on the condition that you
divulge the information and not keep it a secret. Today
patents are simply used to exclude your competitors.
Nothing is exclusive about the human genome.
Sequences must be used for diagnostic purposes.
Patenting sequences is not immoral, given what the
world is today.

Q. What is your advice to the students who are entering
research?
A. The most important thing for all scientists is to
discover and ‘Tell the Truth’. That’s your business.
The second thing is you’re the representative of all of
humanity, not for a certain section of society. And you
must stand up for all of humanity.

P.S: This interview was conducted by Mukta, Deepti, Smrithi,Kumudhini, Shyam, Madhusudan and me

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