Tennis, oceans and the beginnings of my career in science

May 11, 2011

Dr Gerry Krystal tells of how he came to pursue a career in science.

I remember being taken by my mother, with my older brother in tow, to the pebbly ocean beach in Brighton, England, to play in the waves and then, after lunch, to watch people play tennis at St. Ann’s Well Gardens. This blissful time, which would greatly influence my later choices in life, ended when my mother dropped me off at kindergarten at the tender age of three. When I was four and a half years old and in grade 1, we emigrated to Montreal, where school did not begin until the age of 6… and then I had to repeat kindergarten (oh, the humiliation!) Growing up short for my age, bespectacled and with a British accent, I quickly learned to run and to escape into books. Graduating at the age of 16 from Baron Byng high school, I was too young to go to university and worked for a year as a junior underwriter in an insurance company. It was there, trying to understand X-rays and various diseases, that I first became interested in medicine. Graduating at the top of my honours biological sciences class with a Bachelor of Science at McGill University, some five years later, I was encouraged to go into research rather than medicine. So I went to Berkeley, California, for graduate studies in molecular biology. With the Vietnam War raging and student protests dominating daily campus life, I decided after a year to return to the sanity of McGill. I received a Masters in Science from the cancer unit in enzymology and a PhD from the biochemistry department in virology, during which I taught tennis to make ends meet. I longed to get back to the ocean, however, and so went to the University of California at Irvine for post-doctoral studies. I looked into what turns genes on and off… and played a lot of tennis.