Top NIH researchers double as local rockstars

Passionate, creative and disciplined are qualities that make for a successful scientist, and it turns out, musician, too.
“I think there’s a lot of really nice synergy between music and thinking about science, so actually, it’s not that strange at all,” said John O’Shea, M.D., Scientific Director, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
When Francis Collins joined the NIH in 1993 to direct the National Human Genome Research Institute, and later, he brought with him more than his knowledge of science.
“He was interested in starting a band, and I have a basement with a drum set,” O’Shea said.
Thus began the 25-year — and still counting — run of a band most commonly known as “The Directors,” a name that evolved over time as the band began to expand beyond just directors at the NIH.
“I was quite intimidated,” said Crystal Young, Postbac Fellow, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. “These people are very much my senior, but as soon as I got to my first practice, everyone was so welcoming.”
Now at her second rehearsal, Young is leading vocals.
Dr. Peter Grayson said the band’s egalitarian nature is what makes it essentially a microcosm of the NIH.
“The most seasoned, experienced scientists there welcome input from a diverse background and from people that are very junior from them,” said Peter Grayson, M.D., Tenured-Track Investigator, NIAMS.
The band has performed at a variety of venues, ranging from the Newseum to the Library of Congress and the Kennedy Center, playing always for free with the goal of stimulating young minds.
“I really do hope that that inspires others to think about a career in science; it’s not just for nerds,” said John Tisdale, M.D., Senior Investigator, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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