Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Take chances

[Source: Norma Coile, AZStarsNet.com] - Vicki L. Chandler, 57, helps cure cancer and other diseases, feeds the hungry in the world and could bring a Nobel Prize to the University of Arizona some day.

She is the director of The BIO5 Institute, which draws scientists from five University of Arizona colleges to work on creating lifesaving therapies and cures for diseases. Chandler is also a renowned researcher, Regents' Professor and Endowed Chair in her own right: She helped decipher the genetic code for corn, important to feeding global populations, and she wins prestigious grants to explore the genetics of various human diseases.

As a researcher in a major university, my students and I work in uncharted territory. We are discovering things for the first time. Each of our experiments is designed to test a hypothesis, and many times our hypotheses turn out to be right and that is certainly gratifying.

However, the most stimulating times in my career were when our experiments revealed a whole new way of thinking about our science. That is unbelievably exciting and it happens every few years. For example, in 2006, we uncovered a new pathway for genetic information to be passed from parents to their children. Discover Magazine cited that work as one of the top six discoveries that year.

A key aspect of experimental science is taking chances. … It is a given that not everything will work perfectly, mistakes will happen, experiments will fail, and rejection will occur. When any of the above happens, I don't blame others for the situation or spend too much time focusing on aspects that I can't control. Instead I try to look deeply at myself and learn from my mistakes, grow stronger from rejections; what could be done differently next time, how can I improve?

One person who had a strong influence on me was Barbara McClintock, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1983. One of the most important things I learned from her was to keep an open mind and be prepared for the unusual and unexpected.

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