Over the last two months, we’ve had many different speakers come to give us talks. It was surreal for me to be in the same room as many people who have conducted breakthrough research (even one Nobel Prize winner!) and accomplished so many things in their lives. It was exciting for me to learn about their work and how their projects and questions evolved. But so many of the pressing questions I had for our speakers regarded what paths they took to get to where they are now and how they found their way. It was really encouraging for me to hear about what their experiences were like at my age and allowed me to be less intimidated by them and relate to them more.
One of the talks that will stick with me is Dr. Lawrence David’s. Dr. David is a fairly new professor at Duke and was hired 5 years ago. His lab studies the microbiome in the human gut and how what you eat affects it. He was the only researcher whose work involved humans as tests subjects, which I thought was really cool. But his talk didn’t focus primarily on his research, rather it focused on how he got to where he is today. He talked about his time at Columbia as an engineering student, at MIT as a Ph.D. student, and at Harvard as a junior fellow. His discussion was peppered with funny anecdotes about things like the time he spent two months eating street food in Thailand as part of his Ph.D., seeing how it affected his gut’s microbiome. He also had a very earnest discussion with us about the frustrations of research, questioning the graduate school route you choose, trying to fit into the world of science, the times you feel like you don’t belong and don’t know what you’re doing.
Some of his lessons were:
- Research is going to get weird – that means a breakthrough is coming
- Not everyone in the room is smarter than you. A third are but aren’t interested in showing it off and want to be your friend. A third are about as smart as you and can be considered friends as well. Another third isn’t as smart as you but want you to think they’re so much smarter than you are.
- The moment you think you know what you’re doing is the moment you’re given your next challenge (graduation).
I think self-doubt is something everyone struggles with when they’re trying to find their way and it was really nice to hear him address than and talk about how even now there are times when he wonders if he should have gone to medical school. I felt like I could relate to some of Dr. David’s experiences and that was really exciting to me. His story emphasized the importance of an open mind, trusting yourself, and welcoming change. His talk is definitely something that I won’t forget and his words of wisdom will continue to resonate with me as I continue on my journey into science. I feel so grateful to have had this experience and hear from so many brilliant, fascinating people. I’ve taken so much away from their talks and they’ve given me a lot of perspective.