PAGE 6 OF 6
As Morrison notes, Kimble is as good on an interpersonal level as on a scientific one. “When she is with you, her focus is on you; she is not distracted by all the things that need to be done,” says Susan Strome, a long-time friend who is on the faculty at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “She has a huge lab and a lot on her plate, yet I have the feeling that I get her undivided attention. It feels like a gift.”
Kimble combines grace and enthusiasm with a detailed knowledge of the explorations of the young researchers in her 22-person Wisconsin lab, which includes six graduate students, six postdocs and two senior scientists. “I had heard she travels a lot and gives a lot of seminars,” says Ph.D. student Dyan Vogel, “but she always seems to think about your project. After a big, exciting experiment, you are likely to get a weekend e-mail: `How did that go?'” Her help is balanced, Vogel adds. “She knows when you need guidance and when to leave you alone.”
A long leash is part of the plan, Kimble admits. “I floundered in grad school, but it made me figure out how to solve problems and be successful. When students in my lab are floundering, I try to be there for them, but they need to flounder sometimes and learn how much they can do.”
Still, when an investigation is at a critical stage, Kimble doesn't stint on advice and encouragement, says Clinton Morgan, an M.D./Ph.D. student in her lab. “When something starts working, she always says, ‘Go for the throat. Follow that, finish it off.' She's very good at raising the bar for everybody.”
The success resulting from this Zen-like awareness of when to intervene and when to refrain is evident to Kimble's colleagues. She has won many accolades and was asked this year to join the council of the National Academy of Sciences, which sets policy for the academy.
According to David Page, an HHMI investigator and stem-cell expert who directs the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT: “It's fair to say that Judith and those she has trained have really pioneered that entire field [of the regulation of the C. elegans germline]. She has set the standard against which work in other labs, and in other species, is measured. Her work is really a model of clarity, thoroughness, and perseverance.”
The Kimble model has rubbed off on her son Zach Wickens, 20. Growing up an only child, he was initially bored when his folks talked about weird things like RNA and FBF, but now he's dabbling in the family business. A double major in chemistry and math at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, Zach has already begun the late-night lab rituals. “He told me recently that he was gearing up for a reaction he'd been working on for a month,” says Kimble. “Zach used to think we worked too hard, yet now he is discovering, as we did, that once you're engaged it's no longer work.”