“… to many it is not knowledge but the quest for knowledge that gives greater interest to thought—to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.” James Jean

It’s an age-old question: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” While reflecting on this recently, I remembered my classmates in elementary school already had clear career goals. Many dreamed of going into business, others aspired to be lawyers or physicians. A few, still, sought to make fashion statements by looking the part.

I think of Doctors Without Borders (which include highly skilled nurses) who brave risky situations to bring hope where none existed. Remember Ebola? The public was caught unaware as nurses and doctors rushed to quell the fulminant viral outbreak. The traumatic experience was a crash course, of sort, on how fragile the chain of infection is. The highly virulent pathogen shuts down human  cell machinery resulting in very poor prognosis if quick action is delayed. Its clinical manifestation and environmental impact are undeniable.

Whether it was the devastating earthquake that ravaged Haiti’s already fragile infrastructure, to the unsung heroes in the poorest community clinics or in the trenches of microbial and viral warfare, missionary health professionals treat the sick often with very little fanfare. This, while earning token change than talk show hosts with arrogance of ignorance.

I think of the teachers who may not win CNN’s Hero of the Year, but they are to me. You got a sense they were genuinely invested in helping students reach their goals.

One such teacher, Professor Fleischer, actually used his lunch time to work extra physics problems with me. Back then, I felt courses such as physics/calculus are meant for very smart people only. Moreover, I was already a nontraditional student when I enrolled in college. But I found myself daydreaming often about the wonders of nature! The followings clip delineates perfectly how I felt when Professor Fleisher and I worked physics problems on blackboard (which paid off big time):

I also think of Dr. Ellis of the pharmacodynamics department, whose work on the glaucoma made me appreciate even more the intricacies of medical/clinical research. In her lab, I actually got my feet wet learning such techniques as the Western blot analysis and PCR among others. I also cultured schlemm’s canal and trabecular meshwork cells for analysis. Finally, the fact she was a black scientist doing high end research were a great source of inspiration.

There was also my genetics professor, Dr. Kenworthy, who posed a subtle challenge to the class (as we had just covered telomerase) to attend Dr. Carol Greider’s symposium on telomeres—a pioneering work that won her a Nobel Prize. Meeting the Nobel Laureate was a surreal experience!

The following is a lecture by her mentor, Elizabeth Blackburn (could not find a succinct lecture by Dr. Greider):

As I ponder the original question, I think that earning a living from a career that excites is a boon to society.

My short interview with Dr. Green:

So, what do I want to be when I grow up? As it was the premise of The Elusive Horizon:

To be a nomad through the pages of books from which knowledge feeds my imagination. To gain wisdom: “first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

In the process, to forge genuine friendships, but ultimately: “to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.”


Dr. Greider & Blackburn

Photo credit

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