Nobel Winner Was 'Too Stupid for Science'

Schoolmaster urged stem-cell pioneer John Gurdon to study something else

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 9, 2012 12:03 AM CDT

(Newser) – Academic underachievers everywhere can take heart from the story of John Gurdon, the British professor who won this year's Nobel prize for medicine—64 years after being told it would be a "sheer waste of time" for him to study science. When he was 15, Gurdon was ranked last out of 250 students at his school in biology. "I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous," wrote a schoolmaster in a 1949 report the professor has framed above his desk at the Cambridge University institute named in his honor.

"When you have problems like an experiment doesn't work, which often happens, it's nice to remind yourself that perhaps after all you are not so good at this job and the schoolmaster may have been right," Gurdon, who shares the prize with Japanese stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka, tells the Telegraph. The 79-year-old plans to donate his share of the $1.2 million prize to a fund to help PhD students—and to be at the lab this morning at his usual early hour. "It isn’t going to be particularly productive to clear off to some exotic place, and I don’t have a yacht," he says.

British scientist Sir John Gurdon speaks during a news conference in London yesterday.
British scientist Sir John Gurdon speaks during a news conference in London yesterday.   (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
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