Interview with Dr. Stephen Rogers

What is the most significant event that has occurred in your profession or field of study during the 20th century? What lesson do you take away from that event?

The discovery of the structure of DNA, the genetic material, in 1953 and, 25 years later, the development of tools to isolate, rearrange and move these genetic instructions from one cell to another are the most significant events in genetics in the 20th Century. We use this knowledge and technologies from them to produce new pharmaceuticals to better heal us and new crops to better feed us. We have now begun to decipher the genetic blueprints for all living things including man to better understand the common mechanisms of life.

The progress in genetics is exciting for all that it promises in improving the quality of life. I am constantly astounded by the ingenuity of my academic and company colleagues in the application of new technology and always at a loss to predict what advance will be next.

Personally, what is the most meaningful life lesson you have taken from your vocation or avocation?

The most meaningful life lesson for me, and one that is especially difficult for a scientist to learn, is that teams of bright, dedicated, trusted persons with clear goals can accomplish much more that an individual. One must make their contribution and help others do theirs. I became and accomplished so much more once I learned this.

What person(s) or mentor(s) have had the most significant impact on your life? Can you describe how that person affected your life?

Many of my teachers and fellow students at Wabash contributed to my life's course and achievements. Willis Johnson allowed me to discover the excitement of independent research and the excitement being the first person to observe something new, a thrill that is still with me. Les Hearson, Austin Brooks, Tom Cole and Ed Haenisch and many, many others reinforced this experience. They gave me a firm foundation of knowledge, taught me the tools to learn more and gave me the confidence in my ability to apply what I knew. I have carried these throughout my graduate education and my career.

In your experience, what is the greatest misconception the public has about your vocation (or field of study) or the people in that vocation?

The public ( which includes me for the many areas with which I am not familiar) believes that scientists can accomplish anything and then becomes concerned when they do. This is especially true for new technologies like genetic engineering. It is crucial that we maintain open communications for a dialogue to create a future we all desire.

Rogers is a geneticist for the Monsanto Corporation; co-recipient of the 1999 National Medal of Technology for developing techniques for creating transgenic crops