Delivering ‘the path to the Nobel Prize’ for those dreaming of becoming future scientists
Special Guest Lecture by Professor Richard J. Roberts, Nobel Prize recipient in Physiology or Medicine
The Korea University Graduate School, College of Life Sciences and Biotechnology; BK21 PLUS (Brain Korea 21 Program for Leading Universities & Students) Project for Creative Human Resources Development in Life Sciences; BK21 PLUS Project for Biotechnology Institutes; and BK21 PLUS Project for Eco-Leader Development hosted a lecture by Professor Richard John Roberts at 11a.m. on Friday, September 8 in the assembly hall of Hana Square. Professor Roberts received the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, and is a chair professor at Northeastern University, Boston, USA. On this day, Dr. Roberts spent time with the KU students talking about “the path to the Nobel Prize.”
During his lecture, Professor Roberts explained his own course of life that led him to receiving the Nobel Prize. While reflecting on his childhood, he recalled that he was full of curiosity and that he loved puzzles, saying: “My parents supported my curiosity and love of puzzles.” He went on to explain that scientific research is much like puzzles.
When talking of his experiences at Sheffield University, Professor Roberts told a story of how he, who had an interest in chemistry and who dreamed of becoming a detective who resolves problems, entered into the world of scientific research. He introduced Professor Kazu Kurosawa as his true mentor, through whom he began to dream of becoming a molecular biologist. He told the assembled students that they should read books, listen to lectures, and find what they really want to do in life. He said that once they find what they really want to do in life, they should hold on to it decisively; he also encouraged them not to fear change.
Professor Roberts worked at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory under Dr. J.D. Watson from 1972 to 1992, eventually reaching the position of Assistant Director. He started working on newly discovered Type II restriction enzymes in 1972, and discovered and analyzed more than 100 enzymes over the next few years. Professor Roberts and his research team cloned the genes of various restriction enzymes and other similar methylases, and the study of such enzymes has been the focus of their major research topics.
While explaining the process of his own research, Professor Roberts told the students “Don’t be afraid of failure.” Although many students are afraid of failure, he opined that failing only means that ‘nature is trying to tell us something’ and that in itself is a great learning. Professor Roberts received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1993, but he said that he never conducted research to receive the prize. He was only researching day and night on something that he was passionate about and it eventually led to the prize. He reiterated that, just as he has done, students should also find something that they are interested in and that they can engage in passionately.
Towards the end of the lecture, Professor Roberts talked about ‘the importance of luck’ and said that many people often ignore the importance of luck; however, according to Dr. Roberts, when luck happens, one should make use of it without feeling guilty. He introduced six major events that occurred in his life, and said that meeting Professor Kazu Kurosawa and choosing Harvard were the lucky choices that he had made.
Lastly, Professor Roberts thanked those who had helped him to deliver his lecture at KU. In the following Q&A session, students asked questions regarding ‘the fourth industrial revolution,’ ‘GMOs,’ and ‘the field of research,’ to which Professor Roberts responded to passionately.