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Writing Insights: Hard Work and Following Guidelines to Success with Prof. Gurdon 

By WriteWise Team

October 9, 2020

English, Nobel Prize

WriteWise (previously BioPub) had the great honor of interviewing Professor John Gurdon, 2012 Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine and founder of The Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge, among many other distinctions. Professor Gurdon is the author of more than 250 scientific articles published in prestigious journals such as Development, Cell, PNAS, Natureand Science.

This interview with Professor Gurdon will provide you with valuable insights on how to write and publish a scientific article and how to conduct cutting-edge research.

Professor Gurdon's Provides Writing Insights: 

[WriteWise]

How did you convince funding agencies to award funding for your research? What insights do you have for students to effectively write a project proposal?

[Professor Gurdon]

I had no training for writing grants and had to learn the hard way. Nowadays the granting agencies give fairly specific information about the kind of way an application should be written and I follow these guidelines very precisely.

Class Lecture

[WriteWise]

At The Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, do students have formal training in scientific writing?

[Professor Gurdon]

No formal training in scientific writing.

[WriteWise]

Which of your own papers do you consider exemplary for its writing and science that you would like to suggest to students as reading material?

[Professor Gurdon]

One of the papers I enjoyed writing and feel was reasonably successful is: Gurdon, J.B. (2006) From nuclear transfer to nuclear reprogramming: the reversal of cell differentiation. Ann. Rev. Cell Dev. Biol. 22, 1-22. PMID: 16704337.

Considering my lack of experience, I think some of my early papers were satisfactory and among these is: Gurdon, J.B. (1962). The developmental capacity of nuclei taken from intestinal epithelium cells of feeding tadpoles. J. Embryol. exp. Morph. 10, 622-640.

Interview Microphone

[WriteWise]

You have published many papers in the most prestigious journals in the world. How do you transmit this experience to your students? What is your strategy to teach your students scientific writing?

[Professor Gurdon]

I invite my students to have a first attempt at writing their paper and then make such suggestions or corrections as are necessary. I encourage them, before writing any detail, to work out a plan of what they plan to put in each part of the paper.

[WriteWise]

Considering that you were discouraged at an early age (age of 15) in continuing in science by your schoolmasters, do you have any general advice for students who might feel frustrated that are not meeting their tutors expectations, that they are not publishing, that the experiments are not working?

[Professor Gurdon]

I was indeed discouraged at the beginning of my career, but felt sufficiently interested in science and in the problem I came to work on that I was prepared to work very hard and keep trying until finally success arrived.

[WriteWise]

Every scientist who wants to publish their research knows they will have to undergo peer revision. When you first published your discovery on Xenopus nuclear transplantation and cloning, there was much criticism and scrutiny from the scientific community. How did you handle this criticism? Do you have any writing advice for students on how to respond to peers who might be particularly scathing in their assessments?

[Professor Gurdon]

Yes, for 10 years, my earliest papers on nuclear transferring Xenopus were strongly criticized and many thought they must be wrong. To deal with the criticism I simply reported the results as they had been or were to be published and explained why I thought they were valid. Eventually this point of view prevailed.

If you liked this Writing Insights interview, be sure to check out our other interviews with renowned scientists, such as Professor Melissa Moore..

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