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Susan Hockfield

President Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

I got to glioma by a bit of an experimental accident and by a certain amount of luck, fortuitousness. My husband's a neuro-oncologist, and I remember one Saturday afternoon we were sitting around around lunchtime and he had been reviewing, I think, the galleys of a review paper he was writing that included some fabulous images of real gliomas in real patients, and I in the meantime, was puzzling over some work that had just come out of my lab. We were trying to get our hands on the gene for a protein that I can describe in detail, but, in any case, we had found a gene. My post-doc, Diane Jaworski, had actually found a gene that we were pretty sure wasn't the gene we were looking for, but had some very interesting properties. And one of its interesting properties was that it was expressed when the glial cells in the brain were just beginning to develop. They were dividing and beginning to move to their adult positions. And my husband was working on his glioma review paper, and I was looking at this peculiar data, and we were talking to one another in the midst of this, and he looked at me and he said, "Well, you should look at that gene in glioma." Which we then did, and discovered that this gene is expressed by every glioma, virtually every glioma sample that we tested, and we went on to provide good evidence that this particular gene is part of the mechanism that allows glioma to do this terrible thing, which is invade normal tissue. The gene produces several different protein forms, one that's expressed on the glial cells as they're developing, but in a different form that is very selective for glioma. And so the last project in my lab, while I was in the lab, was exploring this particular gene and its protein products as a possible diagnostic and therapeutic target for glioma.
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Susan Hockfield

President Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The other program we started when I was Dean was a lecture series called "In the Company of Scholars." Jonathan Spence gave a lecture yesterday morning -- he's a historian of China. Arguably, certainly, the nation's best Chinese historian. So I had a thought. I was walking down the street one day. Remember, I was in the Neurobiology Department in the Medical School -- I knew the name Jonathan Spence -- and I walked by the Yale bookstore and there was a display of his most recent book. And I looked at the book and I thought, "You know, if Jonathan Spence passed me on the street, I wouldn't recognize him, because as a neurobiologist I know many of the neurobiologists. I don't know any of these historians." And it struck me that this is another necessary consequence of graduate education being narrow and deep. Necessary, but not exclusionary. And so I started -- I and my colleague started -- this program "In the Company of Scholars," where three times a semester I would invite a faculty member from science, the humanities or the social sciences to give a lecture to the graduate school community. The graduate school at Yale had 2,200 students and roughly 600, 700 faculty were affiliated with the graduate school. So these lectures were expressly for the graduate community: graduate students, faculty in the graduate school. And the charge I gave to each of the faculty speakers was, "Tell us about your topic, but in a way that an intelligent person from another discipline can understand it." Well, this became a wonderfully exciting series of lectures. Of course, the first person I invited to give the lecture "In the Company of Scholars" was Jonathan Spence, and he gave a magnificent lecture. And I don't know, there were over 100 people in the audience, and then we had a reception afterward. And as I went from group to group around the reception, they were talking about the lecture, and that continued, as I said, three times a semester. It was a wonderful way of bringing the graduate community together, and giving students and faculty an opportunity to hear from the masters outside of their own disciplines.
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Susan Hockfield

President Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

My predecessor, Chuck Vest, convened a group of faculty to think about how MIT should approach distance education. So this very extraordinary group of faculty went off and thought about it and came back and the report was "Oh, we've looked at it every possible way and we've concluded that you can't make money at it, so we should give it all away for free." And so MIT embarked on what has become Open Courseware, and it is a really quite remarkable force for the democratization of education. We get emails from people all over the world who have used it and describing how it's changed their lives. Then, when I arrived, there was information coming from people who had used the site, and we discovered that there were a lot of high school students and teachers using it. And there were faculty and staff at MIT who were anxious to provide an Open Courseware opportunity that would be actually targeted to high school students and teachers, and I encouraged that development, because I think it's so important. I think that there are a lot of students who have interests in the kinds of things MIT does -- science and engineering -- and yet because of a paucity of educational materials or educational insight, while they're in high school, lose that passion. And it's very important for our nation that we help those young people understand just how wonderfully exciting and rewarding advanced science and engineering are, and how important it is for them to keep their interests focused, and graduate from high school, and then aspire to study science and engineering at the college level.
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Khaled Hosseini

Afghanistan's Tumultuous History

Khaled Hosseini: Like any other first time novelist who writes a novel in the first person, those first books, as you know, tend to be a little more autobiographical than the subsequent ones. It's not a memoir by any stretch of imagination, although I have surprisingly a hard time convincing some of my readers of that. You know, there are some parallels within my life and the life of the boy in The Kite Runner. I grew up in Kabul in the same era, I went to the same school, we both were kind of precocious writers, we both love film, loved those early Westerns of the '60s and '70s. We love poetry and reading and writing from a young age, both me and this character. And both of us left Afghanistan and became political refugees in the U.S., and probably the sections in the book that resemble my life more than any other are the ones in the Bay Area, where Amir and his father are selling the goods at the flea market and socializing with other Afghans who left Afghanistan. I did that with my father. We would go to the flea market to sell some junk, and we just socialized with other Afghans. So there is quite a bit of me in the book. The story line itself, what happens between the boys and the fallout from that, that just -- that is all imagination.
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Khaled Hosseini

Afghanistan's Tumultuous History

I think writers have the ability to kind of get out of their own skin for a while and imagine what it would be like to live in somebody else's skin. And for me, there were periods where I imagined what it would be like to be wearing the burka and to see the world through that grid. Okay, so imagine you are standing on that street corner with five or six kids to feed and that's the life you have. What is your next move, what do you feel, what are you thinking? There is some element of that, and maybe writers have slightly a better ability of doing that than people who aren't writers. I don't know, but once I made that leap that I discussed, it seemed far more natural for me. I had also the benefit of talking to my mom and my wife and consulting them now and then on things, and they were very helpful, they were very helpful. But I met women in Afghanistan and I heard their stories. I mean, you can't walk up to a woman in a burka on a street corner and talk to her. I don't want to give that image, but I spoke to women who work for NGOs, who were taking care of those women who are fully covered and who won't talk to men. You know, and I heard a lot about their lives, about what they go through and the hardships and the challenges and what is the hope. And what I found is, by and large, the things that they want were very modest in scope, basically a roof for their kids and water. And so I always keep honing back on that and to come back to the idea. And these characters, these women Mariam and Laila, were not based on any individuals that I met in Kabul, but rather they are created out of that collective experience of those collective voices that I heard during that trip.
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Ron Howard

Oscar for Best Director

Ron Howard: Initially, when the idea for Apollo 13 came to me, I didn't remember the mission very well. And then, as I looked at the facts, I had a vague recollection of it. I always believed in the space program and the spirit of exploration, but I was not a sort of a space junkie. Initially, I thought, "Wow! This would be a great challenge: to try to recreate for the audience the experience of going into space." And it's a very dramatic story, and that would be interesting. But I was looking at it more as a sort of cinematic exercise, you know, a great learning experience. However, as I began to learn more about the mission, I began to see that it was, in fact, even more dramatic than I realized. And, more importantly, as I began to meet the individuals involved -- not only the astronauts, but also a number of the mission control people who were involved in the rescue -- I began to see that this was really a great story of human triumph. A very emotional story and that you could be very, very truthful. And yet, it was a real opportunity to sort of celebrate what human beings are capable of.
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