At one point in his research, scientist James Young, Ph.D., was probably tempted to toss his lab notebook out the window in frustration. Now, looking back at his time as a City of Hope graduate student, he can smile and let out a sigh of relief.
New graduate James Young, left, smiles at the diploma he just received from his mentor, Defu Zeng. (Photo by AmyCantrell.com)
For three years, the data from his experiments in the lab of Defu Zeng, M.D., were inconsistent and seemingly fruitless. But Zeng, associate professor in the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism and Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, drove Young to keep going.
“He pushed me hard. Sometimes too hard,” Young said with a laugh. “But it was worth it in the end.”
The reward arrived June 1, when Young joined eight fellow members of the Class of 2012 from the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences at commencement exercises at City of Hope. Wearing black robes and traditional tams, the students one by one received the title of Doctor of Philosophy from their scientific mentors.
They listened to words from faculty members like John J. Rossi, Ph.D., holder of the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean’s Chair at the graduate school and Lidow Family Research Chair in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Richard Jove, Ph.D., Morgan and Helen Chu Director’s Chair of Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope — as well as guest speakers and grateful classmates.
“You are the future and the legacy of City of Hope,” said Michael A. Friedman, M.D., president and chief executive officer and Irell & Manella Cancer Center Director’s Distinguished Chair. “All of your considerable intellectual powers, your creativity and your passion — they are most impactful when they are directed to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Mark E. Davis, Ph.D., Warren and Katharine Schlinger Professor of Chemical Engineering at Caltech, delivered the keynote address. Davis is known for his collaboration with City of Hope researchers on an innovative way to deliver cancer drugs directly to tumors, potentially reducing side effects. The method is currently in clinical trials.
Davis told graduates that they are entering the field of biology at the right time. “This is the generation of applied biology,” Davis said. “It’s going to be a really exciting time for you, and I’m really envious.”
He urged graduates to take risks and aspire to greatness.
“Don’t be afraid to fail,” he said. “Science is all about failure … If you’re succeeding all the time, you’re not working on a significant problem.”
His second piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to dream.”
Ultimately, he implored graduates to cherish their curiosity and stay on their mission of discovery, even as the years pass.
“Seek the scientific truth in all your studies — all the time,” he said.
The ceremony also featured the presentation of an honorary degree to pioneering physician Patrick Soon-Shiong, M.D., a world-class inventor, entrepreneur and philanthropist. The first surgeon to perform an islet transplant and first on the West Coast to perform a pancreatic transplant, he received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Friedman in recognition of his contributions to science, medicine and humanity.
At the ceremony, these students joined Young in receiving a Doctor of Philosophy in biological sciences: Amanda Gunn, Ph.D., Umamaheswararao Jonnalagadda, Ph.D., Yun Li, Ph.D., Zhipeng Meng, Ph.D., Sridhar Samineni, Ph.D., Khue Truong, Ph.D., Su Yang, Ph.D., and Hui Zhang, Ph.D. Gunn was absent because she already has begun work at the W.M. Keck Science Center in Claremont, Calif.
As for Young, the ceremony marked the culmination of hard work that paid off in a bright scientific future.
Gradually, as he continued his graduate training under Zeng, both his data and his conclusions grew stronger. “Now he’s become an expert in graft-versus-host disease and histopathology,” said Zeng, referring to immune issues crucial to blood stem cell transplantation.
“I’m so happy and proud of what Jim has overcome and what he’s achieved.”