13. April 2023

Growing up in Academia with Patrick Cramer

Patrick Cramer

Patrick Cramer

What is it to be a scientist? How does one become a scientist? Growing Up in Academia is a conversation series with academics at different levels of their career focusing on the sometimes short, sometimes long and winding roads behind the “official CV”.

Each event features an open conversation (interview) with a different faculty member, representing the broad spectrum of academic life. We will cover topics such as dealing with expectations (your own and others’), the role of luck/coincidence in scientific discovery, impostor syndrome, procrastination, and conflicts with advisors. Join us for a conversation about the human factors that universally inform the profession, but that too often remain unspoken. These events will be hosted and presented by Lucia Melloni (Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics). 

On Thursday, April 13, 5 p.m. CET, Growing Up in Academia features Patrick Cramer, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biophysical Chemistry since 2014.

You can register for the event by using this link.

The Unofficial CV

After Patrick Cramer finished school he carried out military service during cold war times and considered to study philosophy. When he read in a book that advances in philosophy may need thousands of years, he reconsidered and wanted to do biochemistry. However, his school-leaving grades were not good enough to enter any of the few oversubscribed courses that were available in Germany at that time. He started to study chemistry in Stuttgart, close to his home, because his family could not support him to move out. In the first lecture he was told that only one in three students would make it because there was a limited number of slots for the practical courses. After a few years he moved to Heidelberg in the hope he could enter molecular biology, only to learn this was prevented by faculty locally. Supported by an open-minded professor, he could move on to the UK, first to Bristol and then to Cambridge, where he spend all his savings and found what he really loved to do: structural biology. In order to return to Germany, where his girl-friend lived, he applied to the PhD program at EMBL. In the first round he was not even invited for interview. In the second round he did not find a match at Heidelberg and ended up at EMBL Grenoble, which turned out to be a great possibility to learn the latest in crystallography, as the new synchrotron ESRF just started up. After another year of being separated, his girl-fried moved to Grenoble and their first child was born in France. One Friday afternoon he saw a JBC paper showing that RNA polymerase could be crystallized at Stanford. Although a stipend was only secured four days before the flight, his young family moved to California. In the year 2000 their second child was born and Patrick solved the polymerase structure. In 2001 he obtained the first tenure-track professorship in Germany and together with Karl-Peter Hopfner set up structural biology at the University of Munich for the first time. The rest is closer to the official CV, but still full of surprises, detours, and serendipity.