Standing on the shoulders of giants

I was reminded of this phrase while at dinner this week. I recently became a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholar at MIT. As part of this honor, I was invited to attend the Faculty of Color monthly dinner. I must admit I became more nervous as the day of dinner approached. Most of these Professors I interacted with while a student representative on a Faculty Committee in my role as a graduate student representative. Some I had only read about while studying the history of the Minority Community at MIT. All of them are leaders in their respective fields of research and contributors to the advancement of Minorities in Academics.

As I sat there listening to their stories at dinner, I reflected on how much they each gave in their own way to open doors for my generation. Reading their history paled in comparison to hearing the narrative in person. It is hard to gauge the thought process from the written word. To glimpse into environment from which decisions were made. Whether thirty years out, it was all worth it. Being there at the dinner, listening to the changes in inflection, taking in the hand gestures, and observing the shifting body language lent a sense of reality and depth to the narration that is absent in the written word.

I cannot imagine the strength and resolve it took to put up with spitting, cigarettes butts, sleeping in isolated conditions, or being ostracized from the academic community because of what you were not. All I know is that I am thankful to them for the road they paved for me.

Later that evening, while on the Red Line going home, I realized that at one time, they were just like me. A potential to be used. The choice on how that potential was to be used was mine and only mine to make. Only time would tell, but if I choose to do what I believe and do not compromise, it will all work out. Just then a song came into my head; REM’s ‘King of Birds’ lyrics, standing on the shoulders of giants, it leaves me cold. As I hummed the tune, I smiled knowing that although it is going to be a hard endeavor, it will not be impossible. They made sure that I have more than a fighting chance.

Fall is here; faculty job search begins

The first hints of fall are in the air. The cool evenings herald the end of the summer and the beginning of the fall. What a summer it has been. I married the love of my life and we traveled to London, Tanzania, and Zanzibar in a three-week honeymoon. Africa turned out to be all that it was purported to be, enchanting Lily and I. We know that this will not be the last time we visit.

Now that summer is coming to an end, a new season begins. Most of you will think of fall and of leaves changing. In some sense I will be thinking of that too. But the fall also means the beginning of the faculty search cycle. This year I will be joining that cycle. There are many things that need to be done. Proposals are being written and rewritten, talks need to be arranged and prepared, and trips around the country are being organized. I have prepared for it, as much as I can, but it is still a daunting and foreboding path. I am stepping out from a secure and relatively safe environment of working in someone else’s laboratory and crossing the line to being the leader in my own laboratory.

I am excited about the chance to talk to other scientists and researchers about my ideas and how I think that I can contribute to the institutions that I will be applying to. I know there will be some moments over the next few months that this will seem a daunting task, but I am lucky to have good mentors and a great support group. Stay tuned to progress reports and I’ll see you on the other side.

Padma Lakshmi opens the MIT Center for Gynepathology Research

The room was packed. We had received an invitation to sit in the special seating section and to attend the ‘after party’. Lily and I waited, in the third row, front and center.  Padma Lakshmi would be walking though those doors, stage left, momentarily. We’ve watched her on Bravo’s Top Chef for 6 seasons now.  Always so beautifully dressed, with her smile, knowing that she was ready to challenge the next set of top chef’s almost beyond their culinary limits. And for all but one, past that breaking point where they hit that wall and fell short of their gastronomic dreams.

Padma Lakshmi was at MIT for the official launch of the MIT Center for Gynepathology Research. This research center, the child of Professor Linda Griffith, is the first interdisciplinary academic research institute which brings together biologists, clinicians, and engineers with the goal of understanding the basic biology, physiology, and pathophysiology of the female reproductive tract.

Professor Linda Griffith began the afternoon by introducing Susan E. Whitehead, Lifetime Member of the MIT Corporation and Vice Chairman of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Ms. Whitehead remarked on the bold research initiative embodied in the center. Dr. Tamer Seckin, President and Founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA), followed her and introduced Padma Lakshmi.

There she was, tall, beautiful, poised, radiant, and very much pregnant. Ms. Lakshmi began to share the account of her personal struggle and eventual diagnosis with endometriosis. This disease slowly wrestled control of her life and body away from her.  She recalled of how she suffered alone with this recurring, debilitating disease, learning to tolerate excruciating pain.  Scheduling her life around the monthly assaults by this unbearable condition. Living every day with this incapacitating disease, one which until recently had no name or meaning to her. Her pain was apparent in her heart felt rendering of how she had suffered through misdiagnosis and unnecessary medical procedures before a friend referred her to Dr. Seckin. Padma told of the relief she felt hearing Dr. Seckin’s words.  He understood what she was going through.  His life’s work has been dedicated to understanding the molecular underpinnings of this debilitating disease.  Now, almost three years later, Padma tells of how she has regained control of her life and her body.

Through out her talk, Padma emphasized how the lack of awareness and education regarding endometriosis had shaped the medical diagnosis, treatment and response to her disease. She spoke of how social taboos deterred her from asking the right questions and demanding answers regarding her body and her physical state. She also described how the people who were closest in her life at times misunderstood or played down her symptoms, leaving her doubting her ability to properly describe her symptoms to others. It was not until Padma met Dr. Seckin that she finally understood the impact that endometriosis had had on her life.

What can you do as a woman, a partner, a loved one, for someone who is suffering with endometriosis? Education and information are the best tools to help you understand and identify the symptoms of this disease. Awareness of your body is key.  For those of us who care for our close ones, understanding and believing that when they complain, the pain and the discomfort they feel is real.  Do not brush it aside.  For all of us, do not hesitate to obtain a second opinion on a diagnosis.

In her closing remarks, Padma extended her heart felt thanks to Professor Griffith and the other members of the research center for making the MIT Center for Gynepathology Research a reality. For more information regarding endometriosis or other chronic non-cancerous diseases of the female reproductive tract please visit the MIT Center for Gynepathology Research or The Endometriosis Foundation of America.  Also, please read the article that appeared in the Boston Globe on Friday, December 4th.

Center for Alternative Technology – Paul Allen

Last Friday, Paul Allen from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth Mid-Wales spoke about the centers work during seminar in the Parson’s Lab.  He is the CAT Development Director and co-author of the Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) report. Mr. Allen has spent the last month traveling the US from the East Coast to the West Coast by train giving his presentation about the CAT and the ZCB initiative.

The CAT advocates for an environmental policy that integrates current and emerging environmental management practices, new technology, and education to promote sustainable living communities.  Recently they partnered with University of East London to offer graduate programs in Architecture specializing in Environmental and Energy Studies, Renewable energy in the Built Environment, and Ecological Building Practices.  Mr. Allen’s work with CAT and the ZCB report is providing a policy and lifestyle framework which if adopted, can lower their dependency on fossil fuels and imported energy taking Britain a long way on the road to zero carbon emissions and energy independence.  Along the way, I hope they can provide a successful, sustainable environmental management model that can be used by other developed nations.  If you are interested in finding out more about the CAT, make sure to visit them online.