A Journey Into Medicine

By Jessica Ye '20 for Silver Quest (http://tinyurl.com/silverquest2020)

“I visited the old Blair once, when I was a first year medical student, but I’ve never been inside the new Blair—you don’t have to share that, I know, it’s terrible—but ... it’s not for a lack of desire, it’s just I don’t know what I would do. I’d walk around the halls [but] that’s sort of creepy to have, you know, a [random] 45 year old guy wandering around.”

David Weinstock
David Weinstock’s humorous explanation of why he hasn’t visited the Magnet since graduating in the Class of ‘90 is one that many alumni share. At a certain point in every graduate’s life, the Magnet stops being a physical home to return to and becomes a mindset with which to approach the world.

Weinstock, who is currently a professor at Harvard Medical School and the principal investigator of the Weinstock Laboratory at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, described what he gained from the Magnet mindset. “In order to grow, you have to surround yourself with amazing people… if you’re the smartest kid at a school, [that environment doesn’t] lift you up and make you better. I got that [amazing environment] at the Magnet, got it for sure at the University of Chicago, … during my medical training, and I certainly have it now at Harvard. I felt [prepared] for a life of… learning from my friends, colleagues, and mentors.” He adds, “and I [try] to appreciate how much I grow because [of these] people.”

He even applies this philosophy to his work. While he is busy overseeing a team of 15-20 researchers with as many as 20 leukemia and lymphoma-based projects at a time, Weinstock says that “a big part of my job is just providing the right intellectual and physical environment” so that his group members can do research they individually find inspiring.

He entered the field of medical oncology realizing the difference it can make in people’s lives. His enthusiasm for his work can hardly be contained as he talks about a current project developing a cheaper method to diagnose lymphoma and leukemia in lower and middle income countries in South America, Africa, and Asia. In addition, he is working on treatments for patients with less severe forms of blood cancers in hopes that they can have better outcomes.

Weinstock is a big fan of the open source approach to science, which he believes is needed not just in medicine, but in all fields. One project he boasts of is PRoXe, an open repository of “human cancers that can grow in mice,” for anyone to use to advance their own research. He encourages the sharing of resources and findings because “it allows everyone to take advantage of [them],” though he acknowledges that it “requires a tremendous amount of generosity… to give up the opportunity to commercialize and make profit.”

When asked about advice for current students, Weinstock pondered what to place as most essential. Finally settling on the importance of keeping one foot in the humanities, he advises, “From STEM you can understand how you want to change the world, but it’s really from the humanities that you understand why you want to change the world.” As for aspiring medical students, he adds, “being a doctor, caring for people during the most important moments of their [lives], that is a gift.”