I try to attend at least one guest speaker talk a week (many of them are posted on the MIT events calendar), and they usually are are very impressive and inspiring and wonderful, etc. In the past few days, a few different events and people have collided, and the talk I attended brought a lot of this together. Okay, deep breath. Here we go.
Remember the Student/Faculty dinners I blogged earlier? (If not: Our class council will reimburse us for taking a faculty member out to dinner, since they want to encourage student-faculty interaction.) My friend Varsha ’07 and I decided to “shoot for the moon” in terms of faculty, and emailed Professor Eric Lander. I don’t want to spend this whole entry describing Professor Lander’s achivements (first-ever IMO team, Westinghouse, Rhodes, MacArthur, etc.) so I will link you to his Wikipedia entry, MIT Biology bio, and Broad bio. The things an undergrad might know him best for are teaching 7.012: Intro Bio, being founding director of the Broad (more on that later), and “world leader of the international Human Genome Project.”
Anyway, we email and find out that Professor Lander is (unsurprisingly) booked until much later in the semester, but the dinners need to be in by late October for reimbursement purposes, so with heavy hearts we say that we will have to go with another faculty member. A few days later, we get The Best Email Ever that says lunch on Oct 19th just opened up, and we immediately agree to it. This whole experience totally confirms (yes, “confirms,” not “restores”) my faith in MIT faculty. 1) Professor Lander could have easily said he was too busy for this lunch (since, to be honest, he most likely is), but he made time to talk to two random students who have never researched with him. 2) The lunch itself was so fun, and Professor Lander was so genuinely interested in our experiences and worries; we had a very nice conversation, and Varsha and I left the restaurant extremely pumped up for our futures (and our afternoon classes). For both of these reasons, we are both super grateful.
Switching gears — recall I am taking Development Lab (D-Lab), the class in which we made charcoal and through which I am going to Zambia this January. The instructor of this class is the amazing Amy Smith, who also has a MacArthur genius grant. What is it with these people?!
Earlier this week, one of my D-Lab classmates forwarded to the class the following email:
We’re hosting a very special event at the Broad this week.
Many of you know of Tracy Kidder’s recent book Mountains Beyond
Mountains, which describes the remarkable work of Dr. Paul Farmer on
public health in Haiti.
On Friday Oct 20 at 3pm in the Broad auditorium, we will be hosting
both Tracy Kidder and Paul Farmer for a joint discussion about the
book and about public health and justice.
Members of the Whitehead community are invited ¬≠ students, postdocs,
staff, faculty and their friends.
It’s a very unusual opportunity, so please invite folks in your labs.
Finally: If you have time, do read the book ¬≠ it’s fascinating and
Looking forward to seeing you.
Sadly, the talk was during our D-Lab class, so nobody could go… but wait! Amy Smith contacted the Broad Institute and asked if she could bring her entire class to the talk. The Broad people replied that this talk was “closed to the public” so sorry, but no. Amy then asked again, and they then replied, “Fine, as long as YOU promise to give a talk at the Broad later this year.” Haha, awesome.
So our class trooped over to the Broad at 3:00 to hear this talk.
The Broad is jointly founded by MIT, Harvard, and the Whitehead Institute, and is affiliated with many local hospitals. Eli and Edythe L. Broad are active philanthropists not just in Boston, but also in New York, and Los Angeles.
I could talk about Tracy Kidder and Paul Farmer at length, but I will try to truncate myself. Paul Farmer is a doctor and anthropologist who co-founded Partners in Health, which focuses on rural health, and Tracy Kidder is the journalist who traveled with him in order to write his book Mountains Beyond Mountains.
Professor Lander ran the event (introduced the two speakears and moderated their conversation), which was held in the Broad’s beautiful auditorium:
It’s really amazing to attend school in an area where these sorts of people’s paths cross. No matter where a college is situated, it will attract great minds and good guest speakers, but there is something to be said for going to school in a city that is a hub of so much intellectual activity. (And I don’t just mean biology/health-related activity — this applies to business/economics, music/arts, computer science/artificial intelligence, etc.) As Professor Lander advised us at lunch, “Whether you know or don’t know what you want to do in life, surround yourself with intelligent people and nice people.” Indeed.
Edited on Saturday, Oct 28th, to add:
In “news” that’s not really news, Eric Lander has been named by the US News & World Report as one of the world’s 20 best leaders.