Michael Smith

Organic Chemistry

Won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993 for discovering site-directed mutagenesis: that is, how to make a genetic mutation precisely at any spot in a dna molecule.

"In research you really have to love and be committed to your work because things have more of a chance of going wrong than right. But when things go right, there is nothing more exciting."

So You Want to Be a Biochemist

As in any career in which you are investigating the unknown all the time, scientific research often leads to a lot of disappointments. Things go wrong. Smith said, “For kids who have been very bright all the way through school, all the way through undergraduate university, and almost aced all their classes, sometimes getting into research is very traumatic for them, because it doesn’t matter how bright they are, chances are, any experiment they do is not going to work the first time.” For brilliant young people used to succeeding, it can be very upsetting.

Yet the only way to be successful in research is to do experiments, have them go wrong, and then do another experiment, and then another one. So anyone planning a career in scientific research ought to be commited to long-term goals. “Even though you’ll have disappointment in the short term, ultimately discovering new things is so exciting, it’s worth putting up with that for the long-term excitement and pleasure of discovering something new about the biological or the chemical or the physical world in which we live,” said Smith. However, as a biochemist he wanted to do more than just discover new things. “I wanted to do something that was useful experimentally to other people,” he said. Certainly, his technique of site-directed mutagenesis is one of the more useful contributions ever made to the field of biochemistry and genetics. It is used daily by tens of thousands of researchers worldwide.

Other scientists who may be of interest:

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