James Baldwin Lecture - 2007-08
The annual James Baldwin Lecture celebrates the scholarship of a distinguished Princeton faculty member and provides an occasion for our intellectual community to reflect on the issue of race and American culture. The complexities of race in the United States demand the insightful work both of experts in the field and of all who share a genuine commitment to the well-being of our society. The Baldwin Lecture Series presents Princeton scholars, accomplished in their respective fields, with the opportunity to think carefully with others about race in America.
The Baldwin lectures also honor the extraordinary legacy of the late James Baldwin (1924-1987). One of America’s most powerful cultural critics and essayists, Baldwin exemplified ways in which we might remain critically focused upon and engaged with the relationship of race to democracy in American society.
The lecture was delivered by Bonnie Bassler, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Squibb Professor of Molecular Biology, on April 22, 2008.
“So You Want to be A Doctor: Diversity and Scientific Research”
Description: Who are the role models for African Americans considering careers as scientific researchers? Who are the mentors? Right now, those mentors are rarely African Americans. I am among the generation of women scientists who trained at a time when there were few female scientific mentors. My mentor -- a white male -- taught me bacteriology, genetic methods, and how to think like a scientist. This training led to the work of my lab which is to show that bacteria, primitive single-celled organisms, communicate with chemical languages that allow them to synchronize their behavior and thereby act as enormous multi-cellular organisms. This process, called quorum sensing, enables bacteria to successfully infect and cause disease in humans. My lab group is now developing strategies to interfere with quorum sensing that may yield novel antibiotics. The members of my lab: undergraduates, graduate students, and post-docs; are the young experimental and idea engines that drive scientific progress. In this Baldwin Lecture, I will share my group’s research on quorum sensing, some ideas about mentoring and role models, and how, in my role as Graduate Director, I have focused on the challenge of racial disparity in biological science education at Princeton. There is good news.