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Listening to that inner voice that says, ‘I can’

March 4, 2010

As a writer and editor at the Hutchinson Center, I am surrounded by great scientists, great thinkers, by people whose belief in possibilities enables them to chip away daily at the Center’s mission to eliminate “cancer and related diseases as causes of human suffering and death.”

In such an environment, it is easy to perceive positions outside the lab as less important. But the great ones will attest to the truth that indeed “it takes a village.” We all play a role in helping others give expression to a full range of possibilities. It is easy for children to shrink their own potential to fit within the framework of what they can see, not the boundless potential of what they might become. Imagine what might happen if every child who constantly hears “no” during those crucial years when the brain is developing rapidly listens instead to an inner voice whispering quietly “I am” and “I can.”

The Center’s Dr. Mark Roth grew up in an orphanage surrounded by people telling him all the things he would never become. Good thing his inner voice drowned out the naysayers.

Today, people know about Roth, a cell biologist in the Basic Sciences Division, for his research in reversible metabolic hibernation, a technique that may one day help buy time for critically ill trauma patients and lead to other health care breakthroughs. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation gave Roth their coveted “genius” award. And Roth recently joined the ranks of speakers whose ideas are changing the world when he delivered a Ted talk in Long Beach, Calif.

We all can’t all work to cure cancer, but writing about it in ways that reach and inform is important too. Anyone, in any position, can do something that positively impacts the world. Indeed, by thinking we can’t, we may be collectively causing our world greater harm.

Last month, I spoke to a group of high school students from Seattle’s Holly Park community about career opportunities in science for writers. It was part of a three-hour youth tutoring outreach program hosted by Center postdocs, one of whom was working as a volunteer with the Holly Park youth.

My job at the workshop was to move from table to table and talk to small groups about writing as an alternative career for science-minded students. Few had considered science writing a possible career. One voiced his opinion that high-school grammar class was irrelevant to any future job he might have. However, one young woman was clearly interested in being there, and in the possibility that she might be able to pursue a writing internship at the Hutchinson Center. Reflected in her eyes I saw that as a writer I too have something important to give.

We all can’t work to cure cancer, but we can all give—from whatever it is we hold most passionate—something that can’t come from anyone else. Perhaps it’s communicating to others where the fight against cancer stands, the importance of clinical trials, and how they can become engaged in the process. Whatever our something is, hearing it, believing it and acting on it is a lifelong pursuit.

In addition to Roth’s lecture, visit TED.com to hear others present their 18-minute “talk of their lives.” From one speaker I learned that to educate means to “bring forth what is within.” I believe it is the job of every adult to help bring forth the best of the child before or within us. Then we become sources of inspiration and hope, contributing to a greater good.

Read more about Dr. Mark Roth’s Ted talk at:

TED 2010: How to ace a TED talk

Listen to his TED talk:

TED 2010: Mark Roth on mice and men and suspended animation

By Galen Motin Goff
Quest science writer

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