Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Career advice from the "Edison of Medicine"

MIT professor Robert Langer is a prolific American inventor in medicine. His advice? Don't follow the money, do meaningful work.

Robert Langer: I do advise my students to be broad and open-minded in their thinking when it comes to careers. I mean, basically what you want is somebody to have a great career and be happy; and, you know, so my advice to students is to don’t do what’s going to make you the most money or the most security, but do something that will make you happy — whatever that is.

Well when I got done with graduate school, or when I was finishing graduate school, this was the 1970s and there was this gas shortage just like a few years ago and the prices of gas kept going up. So, what that meant was, if you were a chemical engineer, like I was, is you’d get a lot of job offers from oil companies. And pretty much all my classmates went to oil companies and worked there and they got very high-paying jobs.

I did get 20 job interviews from these companies, and I got 20 offers, too, but I wasn’t very excited about doing that. I remember one interview where they told me if I could just increase the yield of this one petrochemical by .1 percent that would be worth billions of dollars, and I just wasn’t excited about the impact that that would have, and I kept looking for ways where I guess I felt I could have more of an impact on the world.

Well, let me give an example of one thing we did. Actually, when I was a postdoctoral fellow with Judah Folkman one of the questions that we asked was: could molecules exist that could stop blood vessels from growing in the body? A lot of people didn’t believe that that could happen, but my boss at the time, Dr. Folkman, did, and he hired me and we found that cartilage was able to block blood vessels. This was done with Henry Brem as well.

And then we found what — we wanted to see if we could find an extract. In other words, what are the real substances that could stop blood vessels from growing that might exist. And well there’s a lot of things — you have to break up the things into different parts. So first where might a molecule exist that could stop blood vessels?

The answer to that was possibly cartilage, which doesn’t have blood vessels. Then you have to have a way to study it, and that was very, very hard because blood vessels actually grow slowly over time, and we needed what we call as a bioassay. And to develop a bioassay we needed something that could release these substances for a very, very long time. So a little polymer or microsphere or microparticle.

So we developed those but none of those had ever been able to slowly release molecules that were really big. And the molecules that we thought would stop blood vessels were really big. So we had to actually then create ways to release these molecules slowly even though they were big, and release them for months. And that was something people never thought was possible. But I spent several years working on it, experimenting with different techniques, and eventually I figured out a way to do it. And when we did that we published a paper in Nature showing that for the first time you could release molecules of any size from these little microparticles. And then we used that to create the bioassay and we isolated the first substances that could stop blood vessels from growing in the body. Both of those discoveries, the polymer slow-release systems and the substances that could stop blood vessels from growing led to major industries.

Well, when I first gave lectures on the work we did on slowly releasing these large molecules from polymers, and we first published this work, pretty much everybody in the scientific community didn’t believe it. And the consequence of that is that I didn’t get any grants. My first nine grants were rejected. Also when I started to apply for faculty positions — I’m a chemical engineer and no chemical engineering department in the world would hire me. I ended up going into a nutrition department, but the problem there was that the people in the department didn’t think very much of what I was doing, and they basically told me I should start looking for another job. So it was not very pleasant in the beginning.

I think if I’d moved away from it — you know, I don’t know what would have happened. I mean, it’s very hard to figure out alternative paths. I think if you give up too easily that’s not good. Obviously you don’t want to keep banging your head against the wall forever, so I think there’s some compromises you have to make. But I think if I gave up on something like that maybe I’d give up on other things that were important, too. I just don’t know. I’m glad I didn’t.

  • MIT professor Robert Langer is known as the "Edison of Medicine" — he holds 1,050 patents and is one of America's most prolific inventors.
  • Langers describes what a meaningful career looks like — struggles and all. "Obviously you don't want to keep banging your head against the wall forever, so I think there's some compromises you have to make."
  • His best career advice? Choose meaning over money. Langer was interviewed by 20 oil companies at the beginning of his career, and was offered lucrative jobs at each of them. He turned them all down, took a job at a children's hospital, and went on to change the future of medicine.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
Keep reading Show less

White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
Keep reading Show less

"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
Keep reading Show less

Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Keep reading Show less

How to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it’s gone

Unless you plan to try again in 6,800 years, this week is your shot.

Image source: Sven Brandsma/Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Comet NEOWISE will be most visible in the U.S. during the evenings from July 14-19, 2020.
  • After July 23rd, NEOWISE will be visible only through good binoculars and telescopes.
  • Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.

UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.

Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.

NEOWISE just got back from the Sun

Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.

NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.

As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.

An evening delight

star constellation in sky

Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think

First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:

"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."

It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.

Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."

The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.

You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).

Quantcast