Nov 2013

Checking in with Jim Till

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Dr. Jim Till, who, with partner Ernest Armstrong McCulloch, first proved the existence of stem cells in the early 1960s, remains a keen observer of the field he co-founded.  A Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, the 82-year-old Dr. Till maintains an office at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and pays close attention to the latest thinking in cancer stem cells on behalf of the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium. He blogs occasionally and tweets regularly, directing almost 600 followers to research findings he thinks are particularly worthwhile.  He continues to advocate for open access to published research papers — a cause he has championed for more than a decade.  In good health, he curls twice a week. Always up for a challenge, he agreed to take our version of the Proust Questionnaire, the series of questions about  personality that has become popular through modern day adaptations in Vanity Fair magazine and on the CBC Radio Program, The Next Chapter.  It reveals that Dr. Till values honesty, admires Charles Darwin and didn’t think he was bright enough for math. 

What’s your favourite virtue?


Your favourite qualities in a man?

Strength of character.

In a woman? 

Strength of character.

Your chief characteristic?

I think it’s an ability to focus in on something.

What do you appreciate most in your friends?


What is your main fault?

Acting before thinking.

Your favourite occupation?

Scientist. It’s what I am.

Your idea of happiness?

Being with family.

If you were not yourself, who would you have liked to be?

Charles Darwin. I think he was the most important, most inventive biologist of all time. I could add a physicist: Max Delbrück. He was a theoretical physicist turned biologist.  I dealt with him a few times. Very impressive guy.

Where would you like to live?

I like Canada.

You favourite author?

I have to go back to my childhood when I devoured books. The Sword and the Stone by T.H. White.

Your heroes?

Tommy Douglas. He brought Medicare to Saskatchewan and then to Canada. He was a politician because he wanted to improve things for people. And he did.

What characters in history do you most admire?

They would be scientists like Darwin. Another would be Marie Curie.

What natural talent do you wish you were gifted with?

I would have liked to be brighter. I would have liked to be a mathematician, but I decided I wasn’t bright enough.  You have to be very bright to be a mathematician. You have to think in an unorthodox way. You have to be a lateral thinker. I’m a linear thinker and I go for the focus.

What’s your present state of mind?

Pleased to be still around.

What’s your motto? 

Try to be a decent person.

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