‘Discovery Is Not Simply a Eureka Moment’

He's renowned for his work in molecular genetics, but perhaps less known are his dreams of being a sculptor, or his love of plum dumplings.


Stephen Scherer is a Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto who is internationally-renowned for his work on decoding the sequence of human chromosome 7, which led to insights on the genetic basis of autism. We asked him everything from his interest in sculpting to how discoveries are not quite what they seem in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What do you like most about being a researcher?

I like to be the first to see something new (e.g. data) and try to make sense of it.

What advice would you give young researchers?

I teach that a discovery is not simply a eureka moment, but instead a process where you capture a glimpse of nature exposed, convince your peers of what you saw, and demonstrate utility. Eureka on its own is merely an observation.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

I was in a co-operative education program at the University of Waterloo and through my work terms I learned that scientific research can have an impact in ways I could not have imagined. So, I became a researcher.

What do you like to do for fun? 

My wife and kids tell me I need to work on this, but circa 2019, it’s gardening, fishing, watching hockey, memorizing art, and reading books from back to front.

What’s your favourite cuisine?

Plum dumplings.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?

Sculptor, but if you ask me in a month from now it may be something else.

If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?

Colonel Robert S. McLaughlin. I run the Centre that bears his name, spending on the payout from the $500 million endowment bequeathed to the University of Toronto. He was one of Canada’s greatest leaders, and I would want to know he thought I was doing a good job.

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Research2Reality is a groundbreaking initiative that shines a spotlight on world-class scientists engaged in innovative and leading edge research in Canada. Our video series is continually updated to celebrate the success of researchers who are establishing the new frontiers of science and to share the impact of their discoveries with the public.