Dr. Collins suggested that it was his unusual upbringing that imparted such a thirst for knowledge. His father has a Ph.D. in English, but has wide-ranging interests, including collecting folk music and staging medieval plays. His mother is a playwright. When Dr. Collins was growing up, his parents raised sheep on a farm in rural Virginia. “It was a hard life,” he said, and his mother, distrusting the education provided in the rural schools and “not about to relegate the early learning of her sons” to them, decided to teach her children at home.
Dr. Collins is the youngest of four boys. The two oldest brothers, 18 and 16 years older than Dr. Collins, were taught at home until they went to college. Dr. Collins and a brother who was a year older than he were taught at home through sixth grade.
“It was a bit disorganized,” Dr. Collins said. “I’m sure it would not have been deemed appropriate by today’s standards.” The Collins boys and their mother would explore a topic, like the origins of words, for a week or two, doing nothing else, then move on to another subject, like mathematics. As a result, Dr. Collins said, he grew up with an unquenchable curiosity and love of learning.
When Dr. Collins entered high school, in Staunton, Va., he discovered chemistry. He recalls that his teacher made the subject come alive and that he was drawn to its intellectual rigor. He ended up majoring in chemistry at the University of Virginia and then earning a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at Yale University, using theory and mathematics to discover the behavior of atoms and molecules. Discovery of Cystic Fibrosis Gene
PS. Here is the educational background of another genome scientist.