Oral history of British science

Jones, Steve (1 of 6).  Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum. Life Story Interviews

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  • Subjects

    Genetics; Science and Religion

  • Recording date

    2015-10-14, 2015-10-15, 2015-12-01

  • Recording locations

    Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London

  • Interviewees

    Jones, Steve, 1944- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: [Session one: 14th October 2015] Steve Jones born in Aberystwyth, Wales, 24th March 1944. Comments on life of father including occupation as a scientist, birth/childhood in New Quay, Wales, occupation of paternal grandfather as tanker captain for Shell Oil Company, degree in chemistry at University of Aberystwyth (then University of Wales), closure of its chemistry department during Conservative administration of Margaret Thatcher [MT], father's specialism in surface chemistry, employment by Lever Brothers (soap manufacturers) including involvement in development of cleaner 'Jif', progression to "head of research division". Comments on extent to which father was focused throughout life on his work; father's retirement. [2:58] Brief comments on impression that father's childhood was happy; view of mother as less reserved than father. Mentions 'falling-out' of father and his younger brother. Comments on correspondence between New Quay (where Dylan Thomas lived) and setting of 'Under Milk Wood'. [4:19] Comments on life of mother including birth/childhood in Bow Street, Wales, her "very religious" father (headmaster of grammar school). Mentions regular attendance at chapel of all grandparents, self. Comments on tendency of maternal grandfather (John James Morgan [JJM]) to speak Welsh (though fluent in English); own childhood fear of/respect for JJM. Mentions time spent as a child at grandparents' homes. [5:49] Further comments on mother's childhood including experience of growing up on a farm, education (further education at grammar school then diploma in dairying), marriage. Mentions tendency, until recently, for very small proportion of people to have university education; brother's occupation as a bricklayer following education in secondary modern school. Comments on interruption of father's PhD by wartime employment in development of munitions, with related story. [8:51] Comments on tendency for childhood memories to be of time spent alone or with other children exploring countryside/coastline around New Quay (during visits to grandparents) or of time spent alone reading in Bebington library near to childhood home, with related story. [10:46] Further comments on limited memories of time spent, as a child, with parents. [13:08] Description of childhood home in Wirral Peninsula [WP] of north west England, including comments on memories of father tending to car in garage and of mother in kitchen. [14:46] Comments on childhood reading; playing of guitar in later childhood; childhood pursuit of bird watching (mentions binoculars bought for self - aged 15 - by parents); playing of card game Canasta with parents; playing of chess with maternal grandfather, with related story. Mentions toy train. [16:42] Comments on childhood hobby of collecting cheese labels. [17:39] Comments on differences between self and younger brother. [19:19] Detailed comments on experience of primary school in New Ferry, WP, including rapid learning of English and related stories. Comments on significance of fact that no other children from this primary school went to university. Mentions conversation with own tutor Bryan Clarke [BC] at University of Edinburgh [UOE] concerning this fact. [24:27] Mentions meeting first person who had been educated at public school at UOE; sense of self as coming from "submerged 95 percent" of children. [25:04] Comments on development of interest in nature/natural history in childhood through reading and some collecting, so that in own case theoretical interest in organisms preceded practical experience. [26:15] Comments on significant outdoor places visited during childhood, including New Quay shore, farm and countryside at Bow Street, tendency to find places in the WP that were reminiscent of, or afforded views of, Wales. [28:21] Description of process of castration performed on farm in Bow Street. [28:42] Comments on time spent alone or with cousin at site of ruined Norman fort in Wales, visited in BBC radio 4 programme 'The House I Grew Up In' [8.8.2009]. [30:12] Comments on detail of own childhood bird watching, involving 'ticking-off' of birds seen (mentions use of bird guides). [30:29] Comments on parents' conservative political outlook, including story of listening to progress of 1951 election on radio; experience of Wirral Grammar School [WGS], including its influence on own political views. [33:38] Comments on experience of religion as a child, including weekly chapel and Sunday school attendance in Wales; Welsh-speaking chapel attendance following move to England, encouraged by parents but discontinued by self; own limited interest in/response to religion as a child, with comments on religious content in school assemblies. [36:19] Comments on absence of religious worship at home as a child, except in homes of grandparents. [36:39] Comments on relations with/experience of homes of grandparents. [38:39] Description of and comments on WGS, attended from 1955, including memories of science teaching. [43:33] Comments on teaching of biology at WGS, including significance of particular teacher RC Simpson [RCS]; ability in essay writing at school; tendency for certain masters to encourage self in A-Level study in the arts; view of own scientific education/career as lacking sufficient training in mathematics/physics. [45:26] Comments on view that own interest in biology predated teaching at WGS, related to reading and outdoor experience. [46:27] Comments on awareness of careers in biology at time of school education, with story of visiting father's friend who had become Professor of Biology at the University of Keele (mentions careers leaflets produced by Institute of Biology). [47:42] Comments on teaching of biology at WGS of RCS, including outdoor education. Mentions view of own abilities as a teacher. [49:33] Comments on interest in playing of music, with stories of teaching self to play the piano and the guitar, and of watching concerts/shows in Liverpool. Mentions walks in north Wales with school friends. [52:28] Comments on tendency, as older school child, to spend evenings in library and then pub, with related story. [54:30] Comments on view of self as a conventional/well-behaved school-boy, unlikely to cause parents concern. Mentions lack of bullying at WGS. Story of own PhD student at UCL (University College London) who had been to WGS. [56:09] Comments on father's assumption of own university study. Mentions mixed attainment in A Levels (Biology, Physics, Chemistry). Story of lessons in Latin at WGS, with comments on the life/career of the teacher; applications (unsuccessful) to all Welsh universities; subsequent successful application to the University of Edinburgh [UOE] (following further self-directed study of A-Level Zoology and Botany). Mentions part-time job in power station. [1:01:34] Comments on work as 'fitter's mate' in this Unilever oil-fired steam power station, including relations between this experience and own political views, humorous and "obscene" conversation of employees here, effect of this experience in developing confidence to attempt practical work in subsequent scientific career. Mentions vacation work in this power station during degree [1962-1965]. [1:04:32] Comments on own degree at UOE: 'Zoology' "but in effect it was in genetics and evolution"; extent to which discipline of Biology was formed at this time. [1:05:07] Comments on parents' view of own degree subject. Story of starting at UOE contrasted with current concerns for pastoral care of undergraduates. Comments on trusting of self and fellow undergraduates with a key to the Zoology Department, UOE; own view of environment of universities of Oxford and Cambridge, with striking similarity to environments of public schools/Houses of Parliament. [1:09:39] Comments on tendency for school friends at WGS to have gone to university. [1:10:50] Comments on first year at UOE, involving teaching in physics, chemistry and biology; own tendency to work hard. [1:12:28] Comments on experience of finding aspects of first year of university difficult including physical cold, worries about own academic performance; improvement in quality of teaching in second year of degree. [1:15:25] Positive comments on tutor in second year (and eventual PhD supervisor) Bryan Clarke [BC]. [1:16:50] Comments on study of genetics in latter part of degree, including teaching of members of staff who were responsible for key developments in the field, with related story.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Professor of Genetics Dr Steve Jones

  • Related transcripts

    Steve Jones interviewed by Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

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