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Eric Lander

Founding Director, Broad Institute

Eric Lander: I actually started out teaching when I was in high school. Stuyvesant (High School) had a math team, and one of the responsibilities being the captain of the math team was to teach, every morning, five days a week, for an hour, to all the other people on the math team. So by age 14 or 15 I was teaching. When I was in college -- actually when I was a senior in high school -- I took a summer National Science Foundation Math Program, which was a wonderful program. I went back to teach in that for four summers after that, and that was a wonderful experience. I taught six days a week, six hours a day, for six weeks. When you teach like that, you can't prepare lesson plans. You've got to know what you're doing and go with the flow. I loved it, because the students were some of the best high school math students in the country, and you'd start off teaching a course on something, but halfway through the students would say, "We'd rather study something else." In fact, we gave a problem set one night, and the students got so enthusiastic about it that at 11 o'clock, when they were all going home, they said, "Why don't we instead make the course on this?" And they full well expected that tomorrow morning we would have the course switched over to that, and so we did. So in fact, by the time I got around to teaching as a professional, as a professor, I had had hundreds of hours of teaching under my belt, and I'm so grateful for that, because I think the experiences of teaching in those ways, teaching where you have to go with the flow, is something that young professors, young teachers, don't get enough of. When I look at graduate students today, I find that they get a couple of hours TA-ing -- teaching assistants -- in a course. And how in the world can you learn the really complicated business of teaching without a tremendous amount of trial and error, and just experience?
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Eric Lander

Founding Director, Broad Institute

I sat in on a biology course. I took the laboratory component of it, freaking out the poor graduate student who has this business school professor sitting in on his course. But he was kind enough to take me back to his lab and introduce me to his own advisor, and Peter and Lucy Cherbas gave me a bench in their laboratory and taught me how to clone genes. So I moonlighted cloning genes in their lab for a couple of years, figuring that genetics was the most rigorous place to start, figuring I'd work my way back up to the brain. That's how I became a biologist. I became a biologist very much through that suggestion of my brother's, and through this lucky series of accidents, and stumbling upon people who were kind enough to take me, and then picking up biology on street corners -- admittedly very good street corners -- in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But largely, most of my biology education came while I was teaching as professor of managerial economics at Harvard Business School.
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Eric Lander

Founding Director, Broad Institute

The way it shook out, by 1988 or so, was here I had this training in genetics. I had training in mathematics that was turning out to be tremendously important for all this genome stuff. I had a background in business, from having taught at a business school, at a time that biology was organizing its first large scale project that required organizational thinking. And I had a bunch of experience from journalism writing, at a time when expressing what this project was about and formulating it was tremendously important. So I suddenly had a recipe for a whole bunch of skills here that fell together, and I'd love to take credit for having planned it that way, but it wasn't that way at all. It was completely by accident. And I found, within a year or so after that, I had an offer of tenured positions teaching at both Harvard and MIT in biology. A year after that, I launched one of the first Human Genome Centers in the United States. A year or two after that, I helped co-found a biopharmaceutical firm, and onward like that, but it was very much an accident. Even as recently as two years ago, when I got elected to the National Academy of Sciences, around age 40 or so, I found myself rather surprised and stunned to be taken seriously at all this stuff. Because I still viewed myself -- as I still sort of do view myself -- as an accidental interloper in all this, who just stumbled upon this field, but a very lucky field to stumble upon, and some very wonderful people to guide me along the way.
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Robert Langer

Biotechnologist and Entrepreneur

I think that everybody likes quick gratification, but I think that when people really go through a scientific training, like doing a doctoral thesis, you learn at that time -- or really through any kind of research -- that science moves slowly. It just can't help but do that. So I think that the instant gratification issue may, in certain cases -- though I'm certainly not any expert on this -- could discourage people at a younger age. But if you've gone through the kind of scientific training -- like doing research, or certainly doing a Ph.D. -- I think then you clearly learn that that's something you live with, that that's just the way it is. In fact that's part of the value of a Ph.D. It teaches you how to do research, kind of what science is all about. But it may be somewhat discipline-dependent. I think more about biology and chemical engineering and chemistry, but maybe there are areas like computer science where it's a little bit different, because you could do different things. But certainly in the areas that I'm most familiar with, I think when you go through this whole doctoral program, you learn that that's just the nature of things.
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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

I knew the fossils. I knew the background. I had a lot of energy, and I was fairly cheap, and so I would be sent off with a vehicle and a couple of men to explore the possibility of A or the possibility of B, and so I got into field work and prehistory that way. Fortunately, my first real venture into looking for fossils in a small group resulted in a very important discovery. That was in late '63 or early '64, where we discovered a lower jaw of an Australopithecus that had not been found before. It was in perfect condition. We found it on the first attempt, and so that got me very excited, and I began to realize that there were probably a lot more of these things, and that if you find these things, you get a position in the ladder which you can't get to unless you have either got an education or something else. So by finding important things, you immediately get into the game, which you'd been excluded from otherwise.
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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

Richard Leakey: Finding fossils, you've got to be looking in the right place, so an understanding of geology is very important. You've got to be able to locate areas where there might be fossils, because of the geological evidence or conditions under which fossils are formed, and conditions under which fossils might now be re-exposed through erosion. Then you've got to ascertain that there are fossils where you are looking, and then you have got to look mighty hard, and you can look and look and look and not find anything, go back exactly to the same place a year later, and there was something there all the time. It really is a question of persistence and doggedness, but you could look as doggedly as you like in the wrong place and never find it. So there is an element of subliminal knowledge that plays a major part that a lot of people obviously don't have. I had it because I was raised in it. It was second nature to me.
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