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Channeling Raw Smarts Into Results

“He was super smart, but so what? … Pure intellectual heft is like someone who can bench-press a thousand pounds. But so what, if you don’t know what to do with it?”

That’s how math professor Paul Zeitz describes his high school friend and director of MIT’s Broad Institute, Eric Lander, in an article in Tuesday’s New York Times. Lander, whose Ph.D. is in pure mathematics, now heads up a molecular biology and medical genomics lab. Although he excelled in his math studies, he craved the more tangible fruits of biological research and threw himself into that work. In addition to his MIT post, he serves as co-chairman to President Obama’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

Lander’s case illustrates well the role passion, creativity, and persistence play in the careers scientists carve out — or fail to carve out. It’s also a good reminder that your Ph.D. isn’t your destiny.