Testimonials for Pioneer Member Chris Somerville

Wolf Frommer – Inspired by Chris, in 2003 I moved from a Full Professorship and permanent position at Tübingen University in Germany to the Carnegie at Stanford as a Staff Member without a contract. Chris was the Director of Plant Biology. I was nervous, since I did not know how this would work out, with me being completely dependent on the Director. This all turned out to become a unique and precious experience. Whenever you entered Chris’ office, he would immediately be 100% attentive, and had immediate solutions for any small or big thing on your mind. He was always supportive and took over all the hard work, so we were all free to focus on science. It was fun to discuss science with one of the most eminent and successful scientists. An amazing time, that resulted in a close friendship. We missed him a lot when he left Carnegie to start the Energy Bioscience Institute in Berkeley. He inspired so many of us and was a pioneer in all areas, science beyond his immediate focus, founder of institutes, entrepreneur, philanthropist and most of all an altruistic supporter of everyone he came across. Thanks Chris!

Dominique Loque – Chris showed great vision multiple times during his career and influenced the field of plant biology and far beyond. He is also a great reference and provided lot of support to many people.

Ted K. Raab – Chris and Shauna both made me feel welcome during a period when my work on FT-IR could be useful. In the course of 3.5 yrs with them, I made many wonderful friends, and learned a ton about cell walls — a topic which always terrified me as a PhD student.

Natasha Raikhel – Originally, I was trained as a cell biologist in the old Soviet Union, so I had to learn a great deal about genetics and molecular biology after I have joined the PRL as an Assistant Professor. Several colleagues at the PRL shaped my career and Chris especially. He was our Arabidopsis guru and was very instrumental and helpful in advising me. He and Shauna are also my close friends and we have many fantastic memories of traveling together all over the world to celebrate our birthdays: unforgettable times!!!

Wolf Scheible – I had the great honor to be part of Chris’ lab at the Carnegie Institute on the Stanford University campus from 1997-2001. Thinking back, I believe this was the most stimulating scientific environment I was exposed to and a highly rewarding time in my career. Chris gave us all the freedom needed to learn, tackle ideas and solve problems. The interaction and atmosphere in the Somerville lab was incredibly good. I enjoyed every day and was sad to leave when I accepted a new position in 2001. Chris and Shauna also took time to talk about their perspectives on plant science and life in general. If I could, I’d come back for another postdoc appointment with Chris 🙂

John Shanklin – Chris’s excitement for science is contagious, which is probably why I hit it off with him from the moment we met. By the end of my “interview”, we had started planning experiments. He has a wonderful disarming way of discussing issues that invariably results in positive consensus outcomes, while at the same time has an encyclopedic knowledge of many areas of science and doesn’t waste time or effort on poor ideas. Chris is incredibly generous in spirit, and as a postdoc with him, I had lots of one-on-one time (mostly after hours) during which I learned many things beyond the lab bench. Like, how to share results openly with colleagues, how to treat those in your group with respect and encouragement to get the best for them and for the group. He also showed how sharing resources freely (often before publication) creates trust and friendships with colleagues. If a task was onerous, he would say let’s all sit round the table and pitch in. At a time when ordering oligos was a hassle, he would ask if anyone needed any at dinner time and they would be sitting on our benches when we arrived in the lab in the morning! Mostly though my time in Chris’s lab was characterized as fun. I don’t know how many serious scientific conversations would start off with careful, measured exchanges and end up with everyone laughing hard at some idea we realized had a fatal flaw, or at some double entendre. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the cohort of postdocs and students I was fortunate to be a part of in the late 80s and early 90s went on to have productive labs and careers. I attribute much of our success to the outstanding leadership we experienced working with Chris.