In science and research, the ability to innovative is key to success. This is especially relevant in our quest to bring new medicines to patients. But the road towards a new medicine is long and winding with many potential setbacks along the way. So how can scientists remain inspired and passionate? I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to interact with several Nobel Laureates and hear their views on this. The most recent events took place in China and South Korea and they were truly inspiring.
Nobel Laureate, Elizabeth Blackburn, reflected on her interactions with students during her visit to Seoul, South Korea, “I like interacting with the students because they ask these marvellous questions – they’re not naive questions, but I think in some way they are fresh questions and they force you to think…”
AstraZeneca Nobel Medicine Initiative
Held several times a year, AZNMI lectures give university students, scientists and AstraZeneca colleagues worldwide the unique opportunity to interact with and learn from Nobel Laureates.
The initiative aims to increase the awareness and understanding of the impact of the scientific breakthroughs made by Nobel Laureates, and their innovative approach to science. It was established to enhance interest and inspiration amongst researchers, students and the general public about the contribution of fundamental scientific discoveries to human progress. In the field of biopharmaceuticals, of course, innovative scientific breakthroughs are essential to the development of new treatments and, ultimately, the improvement of patient health and quality of life.
During his lecture tour in Shanghai and Nanjing, Professor Smithies, a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, shared insights and learnings from his illustrious life and scientific career. At the age of 87, he still has tremendous passion for scientific discovery, for inspiring younger generations and for life itself. You can still find him working in his lab, even on Saturdays, because to him, being a scientist is fun, enjoyable and exciting! In his spare time, he enjoys flying airplanes, a skill he learnt at the age of 52. When he was here in China, he told us that his last flight as a pilot was just two weeks earlier. The fact that he is still doing this is testament to both his physical strength and willingness to take risks.
What is his secret to remaining so passionate about science after all these years? Every scientist knows that research brings obstacles and setbacks. How do we get through such hurdles and remain positive about our research? Professor Smithies believes that “Finding something you really enjoy, doing it well and working hard” will make you happy and successful, no matter how hard they may be to achieve. Professor Smithies himself is proof of this. The invention that led to the Nobel Prize – the genetic mouse – was a result of many years of hard work; not just a lucky break. And he continued building on that work for decades.
So should every scientist aim to achieve a Nobel Prize? – Professor Smithies’ advice to young scientists and students was to, first of all, find what would make them happy and do it well because then, success would follow. While it’s always good to aim high, a truly passionate scientist will not work for fame or recognition alone and should not set out with fame or a Nobel Prize as the goal.
Elizabeth Blackburn visited the Catholic University of Korea and Seoul National University to discuss her prize-awarded work. Elizabeth, a co-recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, took the opportunity to explain her work to the students. What are telomeres & telomerase, and also, why should we care? was the first slide Elizabeth showed us – I was impressed by the way she went from the basic science, right up to how it can affect disease susceptibility.
The audience engagement during the two talks by Elisabeth was simply fantastic, as shown by the feedback and questions from the students.
Hosting an AZMNI event was a first for South Korea and demonstrates the importance of this market within the innovation landscape. We will continue to host such events across Asia as the benefit to students was clear to see. One of the students in Korea summed it up very well: “I’m feeling thrilled and inspired and motivated. I just need to get back to the lab!”
Fear of failure and self-doubt can be an obstacle to your research, but having a real passion for what you do can help overcome obstacles and boost confidence. I believe that these inspirational talks, from two leading scientists, may help inspire these young students and scientists and propel them towards future success in bringing innovative medicines to patients around the globe.