Letter from Francis Crick to Harold Himsworth, Medical Research Council of Great Britain
In this letter to the Chairman of the Medical Research Council Crick related his plans for a postdoctoral year (1953-54) at
David Harker's protein structure laboratory at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and applied for a permanent position as
a scientific staff member of the MRC unit at the Cavendish Laboratory, a position that "would allow me to devote all my
effort to research, at a time when my thoughts and energies are flowing strongly in this channel." Crick explained that
he worked on molecular structure "because I believe it to be the key to the really fundamental biological problems."
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1953-06-15 (June 15, 1953)
Medical Research Council of Great Britain
Original Repository: Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine. Francis Harry Compton Crick Papers
Some time ago I was offered a temporary job in the United States. As I believe Dr. Perutz has told you, Dr. David Harker,
the head of the Protein Structure Project at the Brooklyn Polytechnic New York, wanted someone from this country with experience
in X-ray crystallography to work with them, in order to transmit some of the ideas and experience we have acquired here.
This suggestion appealed to me, especially as it would also enable me to work for a while in a new environment, and would
help to shake up my own thinking on this difficult problem. As at that time my future was rather uncertain, I accepted this
offer, only stipulating that I should first finish my Ph.D. I hope to submit my thesis within a few weeks. Immigraiton visas
have been granted to my family and myself, and we plan to sail on the Mauritania on 22nd August.
Meanwhile, Dr. Perutz has suggested that I might return to the Unit here after my visit to the States. This proposal is very
attractive to me, for two reasons. Firstly, the conditions of work in this Unit are extremely favourable, both in the facilities
provided and in its intellectural atmosphere, and it is the obvious choice for anyone wishing to work on the structure of
biologically important molecules. Secondly, the prospect of further employment by the M.R.C. is, in itself, an additional
attraction. I am now 37, and must give serious consideration to my professional future. As I expect you know, after making
one career for myself in the Admiralty, I gave it up at the age of 30, and with the help of the M.R.C. started again, in biophysics,
as I believed my interests lay there rather than in making weapons. I now have to decide whether I should attempt to enter
academic life proper. This would mean, in effect, starting at (or near) the bottom once again, as I have no academic experience
at all. This, as you can imagine, I am most reluctant to do.
Employment by the M.R.C., on the other hand, would allow me to devote all my effort to research, at a time when my thoughts
and energies are flowing strongly in this channel. My scientific interests are primarily biological, and I only work on molecular
structure because I believe it to be the key to the really fundamental biological problems. One can already look forward
to the day when we shall wish to use rather more biological techniques to exploit and develop our knowledge of molecular structure.
Thus my future fields of work, whatever they may turn our to be, are likely to be of direct interest to the M.R.C.
Dr. Perutz has suggested, therefore, that I should be given leave of absence from the M.R.C. while I am in the States. My
appointment with Dr. Harker is for one year, at $.450 a month, plus $.1000 towards travelling expenses. There has also been
a suggestion that I might go for a further six or twelve months to Professor Pauling's Laboratory at the California Institute
of Technology, but this is still very open. Our subject is advancing so rapidly that it is difficult to decide at the moment
whether this would be a good idea or not, and I suggest that a decision on this should be postponed.
Meanwhile, if you could agree to my further employment by the M.R.C., and a leave of absence of one year, I should be very
pleased. If you would like me to discuss this with you, I could, of course, come to London at any time.