« the most pleasantly surprising thing in general about my experience was the incredible novelty, quality, diversity, imagination, and engagement of the other laureates in my group »

Charles Carter, US
Scholar, 2010
Institut Pasteur
Current position : Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

What was the benefit of living in France?

The direct perspective of foreign nationals on a broad range of experience clarified issues that could not have been so clarified living in the US. This includes interactions with friends and colleagues, of course, but also includes taking in the French perspective on daily news items from the US. The coverage of news is far better developed in France than it is in the US, where it is clearly dominated by corporate interests, which leads in turn to misinformation that helps nobody.

What has been the effect on my professional development?

I learned an entirely new way to think about biophysical problems. Work begun at Pasteur led to a PhD thesis project for a new student, and has now resulted in four major publications that I think will stand the test of time. These papers opened up entirely new areas, which I think may take some time for the scientific community to recognize. The critical feedback from my colleagues at the Pasteur continues to deepen my appreciation for the subtlety, beauty, and intrinsic value of the scientific method. None of this would have happened had I not shared that experience with the help of the Fulbright Foundation in France.

How did my work benefited to my host institution, the Pasteur institute?

The Pasteur Institute is such an august organization that I fail to see how I myself contributed much to that institution. I did publish one important paper with my host mentor. However, for various reasons, largely based on my initiative to take the work in directions different from those of my host, we decided, amicably, not to publish together subsequently. This is a rather complex issue unrelated to cultural differences, and is thus perhaps outside the scope of this question.

What have been the benefits for my home institution, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill?

This, too, is a difficult and nuanced question. My sense is that I returned from my Fulbright experience a better person both professionally and personally, and that for that reason my home institution benefited. I have been a resource to other UNC people heading for temporary positions in France, but because their own departments already have strong collaborations in France, this was not pivotal in any situation.

Did your overall perception of the United States change after your returned back?

Another highly nuanced question, to which my answer is every bit as self-centered as my answers to the previous two questions. The US is now more highly polarized than at any time during my lifetime, and perhaps more than at any time in our history as a nation. On the one hand, it seems difficult to conclude that having lived in France wouldn’t help better equip any Fulbright program alumnus/a  to bridge the cavernous gap separating us all politically, I have not actually experienced such an effect myself. As we own property now in Paris, we spend as much time there as possible.

What has been the most surprising thing?
One answer suggests itself immediately:  one of my cohort was an artist whose host was the Museum of Natural History in the Jardin des Plantes, where she studied taxidermy. The fact that this answer pops up so readily suggests that the most pleasantly surprising thing in general about my experience was the incredible novelty, quality, diversity, imagination, and engagement of the other laureates in my group. I continue to stay in contact with some of these, and run into others at moments when, for example, I served on a selection committee a year or so ago in Paris.

I hope I can attend the 70th.

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