Timothy L. Manser

Born: August 27, 1955 | New York, NY, US

Timothy L. Manser majored in biology at University of California, San Diego, working on Dictyostelium in William Loomis’ lab. For graduate school he chose University of Utah. Influenced by Martin Rechsteiner, Manser began work in small nuclear RNAs focusing on the genes that encoded these RNAs in humans. When he had had enough of DNA cloning and sequencing of genes he decided to switch fields to immunology. He took a postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Malcolm Gefter. Manser’s first job was at Princeton University, where he has continued his work on B cells.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0742
No. of pages: 35
Minutes: 140

Interview Sessions

Arnold Thackray and Susan M. Lindee
18 October 1990
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

Abstract of Interview

Timothy L. Manser grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, one of two children. His father was a lawyer and his mother mostly a housewife. He liked school; though he says the schools were not very good, he did have a good biology teacher in high school. His family vacationed in San Diego, California, where he developed an interest in oceanography.

Manser majored in biology at University of California, San Diego, chosen for its good programs as well as its proximity to the beach and surfing. He worked on Dictyostelium in William Loomis’ lab. For graduate school he chose University of Utah. He went through a number of rotations, finally settling in Raymond Gesteland’s lab. Influenced by Martin Rechsteiner, Manser began work in small nuclear RNAs focusing on the genes that encoded these RNAs in humans. When he had had enough of DNA cloning and sequencing of genes he decided to switch fields to immunology. Relying on Gesteland’s recommendation, he took a postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with Malcolm Gefter who had been trained as a Biochemist. Manser’s first job was at Princeton University, where he has continued his work, begun in Malcolm Gefter’s lab at MIT, on B cells.

Manser laments the current state of funding for science: too little, too devoted to applied science, too competitive, too political. He says the need for short-term productivity (i.e. publications) promotes inaccuracy, oversimplification, and even falsification. He found that the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences award often has to be used for lab maintenance rather than for innovation or daring science, unless the recipient already has large funding. He thinks occasionally about changing fields to neurobiology; he is also considering going into administration as a way to encourage young scientists. He discusses balancing home life with life in the lab and his wife’s career sacrifices.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1977 University of California, San Diego BA Biology
1982 University of Utah PhD Biology

Professional Experience

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

1982
Post Doctorate, Biology

Princeton University

1985 to 1992
Assistant Professor, Molecular Biology

Honors

Year(s) Award
1982

Gowar Champion Award Postdoctoral Fellowship, Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Fund

1983

American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship

1985

The Medical Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship

1986 to 1990

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences Award

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Born in Manhattan, New York. One younger brother. Father lawyer, mother guidance counselor and housewife. Moved to Binghamton, New York, then Phoenix, Arizona. Public schools. Vacations in San Diego, California; interest in oceanography. High-school biology teacher.

College Years
5

Entered University of California, San Diego, majoring at first in bioengineering, then biology. Worked on Dictyostelium in William Loomis’ lab  Surfing and skiing. Funding. Brother’s parallel career in developmental genetics in C. elegans at University of Colorado. Parents’ later work. Religion and belief.

Graduate School Years
12

Melvin Simon recommended University of Utah. Long hours in lab; only recreation skiing. Rotations. Raymond Gesteland’s lab and Howard Hughes Medical Institute money gave independence. Martin Rechsteiner’s lab provoked interest in small nuclear RNAs. Joan Steitz and RNA splicing. Lots of clones from library from Thomas Maniatis. Published. Found molecular evolution boring so went into immunology.

Postdoctoral Work
17

Sent by Gesteland to Malcolm Gefter’s lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to learn immunology. Marriage. Funding from American Cancer Society and Medical Foundation. Field difficult. B-cell analysis. Publishing. Oversimplification and falsification. Hurry to publish yielding inaccuracy. Uncertainty endemic in science. Took another year in postdoc. Published more, attended more meetings, talked to more people to prepare for own lab.

First Job
22

Immunology mostly in medical schools; had to look for places with molecular biology and biochemical recombinant DNA labs. Help from Arnold Levine and Thomas Shenk. Now interested in concepts, not technology. Field requires everything from cell biology to whole animal scientists. Some good immunology places; institutional politics; intellectual community.

General Thoughts
26

Funding; Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Award. Decrease in funding, increase in competition for funds. Good people leaving for private sector or going into industry from beginning. Grant-writing helps one think out experiment. Too much money going to applied science. Science contributions no longer large, just incremental. Innovation possible only if lab has enough money. Home life and hours in lab. Wife’s education, career.

Index
34

About the Interviewer

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

Susan M. Lindee