Dr. Jeffrey Friedman
Professor, Rockefeller University

How to Achieve in Science

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Dr. Jeff Friedman on the functions of a scientifically literate society.

Dr. Jeffrey Friedman

When Dr. Jeff Friedman followed in his father’s path to become a doctor, he entered a six-year medical program out of high school and received an M.D. at the age of 22. After a yearlong fellowship working in the lab of The Rockefeller University's Mary Jane Kreek, he fell in love with the science life. Today, using advanced techniques in neurobiology and genetics, Dr. Friedman has identified and characterized the activity of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells that balances food intake and energy expenditure. By studying leptin, as well as other genes that influence weight, Friedman hopes to eventually aid in the development of therapies to combat obesity. Dr. Friedman is a Professor at the Rockefeller University in New York City and Director of the university's Starr Center for Human Genetics. Lately, he has taken his search for fat genes to Kosrae, a small island in the Pacific where obesity is rampant. By analyzing DNA collected from all the adults on the island, Dr. Friedman hopes to learn more about why some people are overweight while others are lean. 


Topic: How to Achieve in Science:

Jeff Friedman:  Well, there are a lot of things one has to- a lot of attributes one has to have I think to be good at science and I’ve been thinking recently about what’s the most important one. I think the one thing that you cannot be missing is persistence and determination and a drive. I think I am fairly driven and determined and I think typically whatever happens I get up and move forward. I think you have to have ideas. You have to be able to think expansively about things and not get locked on to a particular idea or conventional wisdom. I also think you have to recognize a good opportunity when you see it. I think the idea in the public on the part of some is that sort of the key thing in being a scientist are your ideas, the new idea you have. The fact that in my- in what I do though is that ideas are actually relatively cheap. You have ideas all the time. People have lots of ideas. Ideas are floating around. I think the really critical point is deciding which idea you’re going to focus on because you can’t do everything. For example, a lot of people thought it would be a good idea to clone ob but not that many people decided that they would make the commitment to it that it ended up taking so I think the notion of trying to figure out what the ob gene is is something that’s been around for 50 years.

Question: Is our society scientifically literate?

Jeff Friedman:  I’m not really in a great position to judge. I have served on some committees that began to think about this. I think that what these- what some people is that you want to get- to breed scientists you want to get away from high-stakes tests and really cultivate people’s originality and individual thinking. That’s a very hard thing to implement because everyone is so different when it comes to that, and so I don’t have any great solutions other than to say that any means for instilling in people the sense of excitement one can have about discovering something, even if it’s not new and even if it’s just discovering it for yourself, sensing some truth that wasn’t evident to you before, can be as exciting if it’s already been done and you simply learn about it after the fact as it is to learn about it for the first time.