Throughout the BSURF, many distinguished faculty members from a variety of biological fields talked about their career paths as scientists and what kind of research they did. These talks helped me grasp the different aspects of different areas and what type of opportunities or problems I would encounter if I decided to become a scientist. Although each seminar was interesting in its own way, I think Dr. Robert Lefkowitz’s talk was quite fascinating.
Dr. Lefkowitz is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at Duke University. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012 for his groundbreaking discoveries about G protein-coupled receptors. He decided to become a physician when he was 8. He went to the Bronx High School of Science in New York City, a high school that has 8 Nobel Laureate alumni. He emphasized that only 11 countries in the world have more than 8 Nobel Laureates. After high school, he went to Columbia University where he majored in Chemistry and then got his medical degree. He told us that he loved doing clinical work but he wasn’t interested in doing research at all. During the Vietnam War, he was drafted by National Institute of Health (NIH) and did research for 2 years mandatorily. After that experience, he realized that he really liked working in a lab and delved into research more and more as the years went by. Now, he said to us that he hasn’t seen a patient in 15 years. When asked whether he regretted his medical training and sees it as a waste of time, Dr. Lefkowitz stated that the medical training helped him correlate his basic scientific research to applicable drugs that could treat diseases.
Dr. Lefkowitz told us that we could never foresee the future even though we plan it and go in a direction we decided. If it weren’t for the Vietnam War, he would have become a physician, not a scientist. He also said that most of the experiments, researches in science fail and the important thing is not the give up. As Churchill said, he quoted, “Success is the ability to move from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.”. He added that for an average scientist, one percent of his/her experiments succeed; for a world class scientist, that ratio could be as high as two percent!
I was inspired by Dr. Lefkowitz’s great story. I hope that one day, I could also have such an amazing story to share with young scientists.