I grew up in New York City, in an immigrant, working-class family. Nobody in my family or my neighbourhood was knowledgeable or particularly interested in science. From an early age, I had a general interest in knowing how things worked, but I was more attracted to art, philosophy and social issues than to science.
I attended a public high school that focused on science, Peter Stuyvesant High School, and I was positively influenced by a biology teacher there. I then attended a free college in New York City – the City College of New York, later to become part of the City University of New York – where I majored in chemistry, which I found interesting but far from an inspiration. The City College of New York was known for producing outstanding professional scientists, but there was no research done on campus by its faculty, that might indicate to students that science could lead to a potential career and also be fun.
My first real attraction to science came when I entered graduate school at the University of California in Berkeley. There, several faculty members and student peers caused me to realise that science provided an approach to answering mind/body questions that intrigued me at the time, that science could be a career, and that science could be fun to do.
However, it was not until I did postdoctoral work in the laboratory of a distinguished neurophysiologist – Harry Grundfest at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons – that I first really learned how to do scientific research, to thoroughly enjoy it, and to observe its international nature. In short, my journey to discover the nature of science, and to love doing it, involved a slow evolution rather than a sudden passion.
Harold Gainer is editor of Peptides In Neurobiology (buy this book from Amazon (USA)).