In 2009, I encountered a book that introduced me to some important ideas and shifted the way I saw the world. That book was Pulitzer-winning journalist Tracy Kidder’s biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains. Briefly, it chronicles Dr. Farmer’s experiences administering healthcare to impoverished patients in Haiti, Russia and Peru during the 90’s, but more importantly it illuminates the vast health inequities our world faced then and still faces now. It introduced to me the concepts of structural violence and the oppression of the poor, and bluntly asked me to face some very unsettling truths. For example, after administering antibiotics to an impoverished TB patient who had been suffering for months, Paul wrote, “When she received them, she soon began to respond- almost as if she had a treatable infectious disease.” I hope that quotation makes you uncomfortable; it should. We live in a world where people die of treatable diseases because money is not allocated for their cure. How can we change that?
I can’t possibly sit here and dispense advice on solving these problems because they are immensely complex issues with roots in politics, economics, and technology. What makes the Listserve such a phenomenal project is that it offers the incomparable opportunity to connect to so many incredible, talented people with such vastly different experiences, skillsets, and worldviews. All of whom are now at my fingertips, reading the words and thoughts I think are important enough to express. No pressure. But since I’ve been given this opportunity, I’ll share a bit about where I’m coming from so that I can invite you all to think seriously about some interesting questions and hopefully let me ask for your ideas in return.
I’m a graduate student, distance runner, and aspiring mountaineer. I’ve logged serious hours in most of the national parks of the American West. I’m currently working towards my PhD studying genome instability and recombination in yeast as a model for cancer. I find my project endlessly fascinating, and am now using next-generation sequencing technology to detect individual chromosome rearrangements. Ultimately, I want to work at the intersection of science and global health, but when it comes to the arc of my career, I’m still trying to determine precisely where I want to be. Over the last few years I’ve been trying to develop a skillset that extends beyond the arena of scientific research, interning for a well-established NGO, learning a programming language, and working on the policy side of drug accessibility with an organization targeting patent agreements. I’m hoping to participate in a program that will allow me to spend time conducting clinical research in a developing country because I understand how formative such an experience would be.
Overall, I’m trying to get a grasp of the more significant needs and gaps in global health, international development, and antipoverty efforts that someone like me could fill. What applications do you see for science and genetics outside of basic research?
I’d love to hear from people in the field, people who have created their own fields, and people who are in no way related to the field but have advice on shaping a career that is challenging on a daily basis but is also truly bent on improving the human condition across the world.
For those also struggling through life's complexities, a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
And an immeasurable Thank You to my friend Laura, for her limitless inspiration and poise.
San Diego, CA, USA