Freedom is absolutely critical to being a good scientist and pursuing the most exciting and most important opportunities.
My name is Derek Tan. I'm the chairman of the Chemical Biology Program in the Sloan Kettering Institute. And I'm also director of the Tri-Institutional PhD Program in Chemical Biology. In my lab, we work in two areas-- diversity-oriented synthesis and rational drug design-- ultimately with the goals of trying to develop new chemical probes to address a variety of targets that are implicated in cancer as well as infectious disease.
The people who join my lab are learning everything from how to run reactions in the lab to how to interpret the results and think about next steps and think broadly. My goal, first and foremost, is for them to be trained as a hardcore, card-carrying synthetic organic chemist. We have state-of-the-art facilities for doing chemistry and chemical synthesis here. We have three of the highest NMRs above ground level in the world.
I really push people to ask questions and to ultimately make suggestions to each other. Many of the projects that we're pursuing in the lab now were conceived of by students. There is a fearlessness that comes along with being embedded in an environment where there are people doing translational research, people putting compounds into clinical trials, people seeing patients every day.
If I had advice for young aspiring scientists, it would be to pursue the things that are most exciting to you. Be creative. Think of new ideas. Take full ownership of your project as a student or postdoc, because ultimately you have to be the one to drive the science. And you're the one with all the great ideas. So go for it.