The most famous paraphrase of the stoic, albeit over-quoted, writing of philosopher and austere German, Friedrich Nietzsche: “From life's school of war: what does not kill me makes me stronger.” On February 13, 2013, as I unwittingly walked into the lion’s den, upon the recommendation of one of my advisors, to meet with an unknown German physician-researcher, I came to be reminded of these words.
What is the “correct” definition of a p value? What is “R”? What is your research hypothesis and what intellectual contribution can you hope to add to the summation of existing research knowledge by answering it? What is the most significant and intellectually stimulating question you want answered right now? And this was only his introduction. As the hour progressed and my answers were summarily dismissed as incorrect, uninspired, or stupid, I felt a sensation I had not experienced since my undergraduate transition from physics to genetics (BS in both). It was a sensation I also had not felt during my first two years of medical school training, first year of research doctoral training, and my years of intervening molecular biology research. This sensation was partially that of ignorance. It is a sensation worse than stupidity. We are taught that the sensation of “imposter syndrome” is normal. However, as I discussed defecting to the world of clinical informatics with this researcher of biomedical informatics and genomics methodology, I was an imposter. And he would permit no illusions to the contrary.
This conversation could have ended my venture into the world of clinical informatics. However, the other part of the sensation I experienced that day was one of renewed intellectual curiosity. To this day, I do not necessarily agree with everything I argued or was told on that day. However, I do not think that was the point. The point was obviously not to “feel good”, but also not to demoralize. The point was to determine if I possessed the necessary inspiration and correct motivations required to move forward with the difficult transition ahead. Two years later, as I complete my research doctorate in clinical informatics and prepare to transition back to my third year of medical school training, I am grateful for this harsh, yet honest, conversation. It substantially influenced my decision at that time and lingers today. My point: do not fear difficult moments or conversations as you progress through your training pathway and life in general. In the grand scheme of life, these moments can not only make you stronger, but more insightful.
Photo – AMH
January 2015: Andrew Harrison at his desk on a grumpy day. Acknowledgement: Photo by Dr. Mikhail A. Dziadzko.
Andrew M. Harrison was born, raised, and attended college (Rutgers University) in NJ. He is currently a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Mayo Clinic in MN.
Acknowledgement: Dr. Anthony J. Windebank for sending me into the lion’s den and Dr. Andreas S. Beutler for pouncing.