Professor Günter Blobel: the intersection of passion and science

I had the opportunity to meet Professor Günter Blobel, Nobel Prize in Medicine 1999, at  a L’Oréal For Women in Science event in Paris.  I asked what motivated him to remain intellectually curious and driven throughout his long and successful career in science.  In this posting, Dr. Blobel shares some thoughts about what he calls “the intersection of passion and science”.

Bl“I am sometimes asked how I stay committed and inspired to making new discoveries in my research. To answer this question, I’ll share one of my favorite quotes with you. The older I get, the more I’m impressed by the insights of Albert Einstein. I like this quote in particular: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” I’ve been a scientist for many years, but I still feel passionate about my work.

Scientists have an intellectual passion to be curious. If science is your priority passion, and you have a strong sense of discipline, you have a good chance for success. When you experience the taste of success, this is an incomparable feeling and justifies all the hard work and sacrifices. Success will add fuel to your passion.

But even the most passionate scientist has setbacks and can experience disappointments. Biological science has elements of trial and error – you look for one thing and you find something else. You’ll also make mistakes.  So passion needs to be coupled with patience.

In addition to passion and patience, it’s also important to be practical. When I had a strong conviction about an idea, I’d try it again and again, using variations. Sometimes it’s hard to know when something just isn’t working. The key is to set time limits and look carefully at the evidence to see if what you are doing is reasonable.

I made the decision not to work on things that could not be solved in a reasonable time frame. I never worked on a research topic that was so remote that it could take 40 years for me to discover the answer. Science is the art of finding solvable solutions in your lifetime. You learn how long to continue your process and how to predict the outcome.

Today’s women scientists can have multiple passions – to be a wife, a mother, or neither, in addition to their passion for discovery. This is a great time in history to be a woman in science.  I encourage you to follow your passion, and I wish you much success.”