Sir Richard Roberts, Journey to Nobel Prize


In the 1st International Symposium on Science and Technology, organized by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), in partnership with the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), sir Richard Roberts narrated how his love for Science was nurtured and his journey to winning the Nobel Prize in the Field of Physiology or Medicine.

Even at a young age, Roberts demonstrated an inquisitive nature, which his parents fostered and supported. His father gave him a book entitled “How I Became a Detective” and also helped build a makeshift chemistry lab for Sir Roberts. His mother on the other hand tutored him at a very young age that made him a passionate reader especially books in chemistry. His school’s headmaster at the City of Bath Boys’ School would also give him little mathematical puzzles which started his lifelong love of logic and mathematics.

Aside from supportive parents, Sir Richard Roberts was fortunate in meeting good mentors. During his time at Sheffield University, Sir Roberts met Kazu Kurosawa, a post doctorate from Japan, who helped him to finish his thesis in one year. This freed up his schedule to learn more and explore the world. After finishing the book, The Thread of Life by John Kendrew, he knew he found his calling in molecular biology that fueled his drive to pursue the field. He explained that we should never limit ourselves to our curriculum and never worry about changing fields. Sir Roberts advised the audience, “Follow your heart; if you find something you love, you can always make a career out of it.”

When the time came to do his postdoctorate, Sir Roberts applied to different labs but only Jack Strominger, who worked as a professor in Wisconsin took him in. At first, Roberts thought he was going to Wisconsin but after Strominger was appointed a professor at Harvard, it led to his fruitful stint at Harvard where he expanded his knowledge in ribonucleic acid sequencing.

After finishing his postdoctorate fellow in Harvard, he began working at the Cold Spring Laboratory in New York where he found his new passion in nucleic tie sequences. His expertise on the matter led him in discovering something that only he and one other scientist, Philip A. Sharp of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), saw in 1977. Their discovery on split genes landed them both the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1993.

When asked what are his secrets in becoming a Nobel knight, Sir Richard Roberts, , would humbly say that he’s just got lucky for winning the award. Sir Roberts is a firm believer that people make their own luck by being prepared when an opportunity arises. The harder you work and prepare for such opportunities, the more you realize that you have luck on your side.

Sir Roberts revealed an incident where he lost a big snooker tournament to a man who would later become a good friend who told him, “when you have a piece of luck and you don’t take advantage of it, you’re a fool. Everybody has luck and you shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage and make the most of it.” These events helped shape a life of love for science and an appreciation of luck. Sir Roberts encouraged everyone to take advantage of luck; otherwise, what then would be the point of having it in the first place? Furthermore, he revealed that having interest in science at an early stage, obtaining good mentorship throughout his career, putting in hard work, and taking advantage of luck is what ultimately landed him the Nobel Prize.

The first International Symposium on Science and Technology is a post activity of the 14th National Biotechnology Week 2018 last 19 November 2018 at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), Pasay City.