After a short summer break, the EASL blog, Liver Matters: Voices and views from our community is back!
Whether you’re still travelling or just about to lay down to sunbath, we have gathered some entertaining and thought-provoking ideas that might positively impact your path in hepatology.
Discover below different sources of inspiration that have helped shape the careers of some of the brilliant minds of our community and that continue to motivate them.
Recommendations from Francesco Negro
The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins. The ultimate, best-selling book to understand the role of evolution in shaping nature as we know it. Dawkins at his best! With strong arguments and lucid interpretation of scientific data, he builds up a persuasive case for gene-centred appraisal of natural selection. This is a highly entertaining, engrossing book, written with the usual Dawkins witticism and plain language, good for all audiences.
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. Stemming from Kahneman’s decade-long, seminal collaboration with Amos Tversky, this book illustrates the fallacy of relying on one own intuition, warning about the risks of emotional (“fast”) thinking. He describes with engaging arguments the numerous, innate cognitive biases that mar our interpretation of reality. We must switch to rational, critical thinking (“slow”) only after careful acknowledgment of these biases. A highly influential book, it has changed our perspective also on teaching, shifting from content-oriented to metacognitive approaches, and was, for me, the basis when we introduced the new EASL school concept (flipped model), where the classroom time should be dedicated to higher level learning processes. This should be a compulsory summer reading for all high-school students.
Spillover, by David Quammen. Arguably one the most enthralling books I ever read. With minute scientific detail, Quammen accompanies the reader through the causes and spread of the most ominous infectious disease, a must read for all those who are interested in pandemics, and the ways to control them. Needless to say, a chilling, eerily prescient work, written in 2013.
Recommendations from Francesca Ponziani
La cura, by Franco Battiato: a sweet song about the feeling that must guide doctors to help patients.
Anatomy notebooks, by Leonardo da Vinci: source of inspiration from a genius forerunner of medicine.
Medicus, by Noah Gordon : a book to fantasize about, medicine of the past and much more.
Recommendations from Marco Carbone
Seize the day – live medical research with purpose and enthusiasm and make your work-life extraordinary! Find the right mentor (and place), surround yourself with passionate colleagues
Be an acute clinical observer – Your patients are the most important source of inspiration for your research – describe (not yet described) phenomena you observe on a daily basis to generate hypotheses and formulate critical research questions.
Think big! – strive to find your niche, work hard, and be persistent. Feel the thrill of creating new knowledge, providing an insight, even small, that has not been unearthed before. The search for that moment is what makes research a unique and endlessly stimulating experience.
The Dead Poets Society by Peter Weir. I find it hard to look back and identify who and what inspired my path from choosing medicine and then take up to medical research. I grew up since high school with the figure of Prof John Keating from the 1989 movie The Dead Poet Society in my mind, who was a paean to the ability of teachers to inspire young people; however, I always felt I had never found one. Only years later, I realized I have been lucky enough to have had many role models (and I still have!) who have helped me pave my journey, offering me guidance and inspiration, each one in its own way and in different aspects of life and work.
The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. From a very early age, I observed my parents from diverse professional backgrounds, and I have absorbed many of the characteristics I deemed important. My Father has taught me the value of hard work, whereas my Mother has encouraged me to recognise my fullest potential and set high ambitions. And trying to fulfil my teenage hunger for travelling in remote areas of the world, she offered me the book “The Voyage of the Beagle”. This book deals with a 22 year -year-old Charles Darwin who, to feed his passion and curiosity, embarks in a five-year journey exploring South America. Here, thanks to the observation on the field of several unknown living species, he developed one of the most important works of science in history.
I have always been fascinated by science, and curiosity has always been the boost to learning. We all strive to learn what interests us, driven by curiosity, using what resources we have. Scientists are just curious humans. And being in medical science requires us to be curious about physio-pathological mechanisms and the way we approach disease management. Applying the scientific method in my daily life forces me to observe, question things, particularly dogmatic ones, test them, and reach a conclusion. This required a creative and plastic mind, and this makes our work enjoyable. Isolated creativity without vision and hard work do not take anyone far. Medicine is unique in its clinical and scientific breadth by combining the human feeling of wanting to help with the principles of science and logical thought. The privilege of being a clinical researcher is to be able to combine clinical work with its human component, logical thinking and clinical challenges with research, teaching, training, and management.
My interest in hepatology was sparked as I was a fourth-year medical school on lectures at the annual EASL meeting given by giants such as Andrew Burroughs, James Neuberger and Massimo Colombo, to mention some, conveying the beauty of the liver and the challenges of liver diseases. My passion for understanding liver disease started at this formative and impressionable stage. Today many GI fellows are charmed by the glamour of endoscopy and do not see hepatology as an attractive career option. I have chosen to be not as financially secure as our GI colleagues, but this has been amply offset by the richness of my experience in a field which is still novel, with many diseases yet with undefined causes and the clinical challenge of dreadful diseases, some with no therapeutic opportunity that makes our work a mission. Indeed, hepatology has evolved from a speciality that could only offer interferon and diuretics to a discipline that relies on advanced diagnostics and multiple therapeutics from the metabolic field to rare biliary disease.
Throughout my career in Italy and the United Kingdom, I have met outstanding clinicians and clinical investigators who have set the standards that I wanted to achieve to priorities in my training, great clinical care and rigorous scientific investigation. My doctoral thesis advisor in Cambridge was (and still is!) a man of great human and medical knowledge and scientific passion, more interested in his patients and liver disease than in the honours, He never offered me easy answers but rather pushed me to use my knowledge and experience to explore new avenues from my usual perspective. The clinical approach that I have learned during my training, based on experience and judgment, has been my main inspiration and has greatly influenced my academic career, both in teaching and in research.
Another memory I am happy to share is an extraordinary, inspiring encounter happened in the recent years; a half ‘hour chat over breakfast with a humble, sweet, senior scientist at the Chateau de Guermantes close to Paris back in 2017 at the first EASL/AASLD Masterclass. He was telling me about how he started to be interested in science, his first findings, and then the big discovery, the non-A non-B virus, renamed hepatitis C that over the course of my medical training I saw being eradicated with novel drugs. This man was Professor Harry Alter awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine…
The ultimate motivation of research is to discover. When one achieves his/her scientific aim, the awareness that such discovery or invention may directly lead to human welfare through improved disease diagnosis, treatment, and/or prevention, provides a supreme pleasure. I believe I will never stop enjoying mentoring medical students and junior doctors and boost their personal and professional development, foundation of a meaningful and fulfilling career, and convince them to pursue research (better if in hepatology!) with passion and intellect.
Recommendations from Chiara Becchetti
Embrace the change! A room of one’s own, by Virginia Woolf
It is not easy to accept change and we often think we are betraying ourselves when we change our minds or direction.
I remember coming across this book at a crucial time in my medical studies. I had always believed that I was going to be a surgeon and had invested so much energy into achieving that goal. Then at some point everything changed, I realized that it was something else I was interested in, but I did not want to accept it for fear of being inconsistent and disrespectful to all the sacrifices I had made until then. This book really helped me to have confidence in myself and to dare. Growing and evolving is a complex process that involves letting go of something that has belonged to us and embracing the change.
“There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
Take a break… Travel!
Too often, we are overworked and believe that our goals will only be achieved if we continue to work at an ever-increasing pace. Taking a break from your work, on the other hand, is essential to staying productive and, for me, the best way to do that is to travel. Traveling allows us to open our minds to new experiences, learn about new places, distance ourselves from our work for a while, and give things the proper weight. After a trip, I always feel recharged and ready to take on daily challenges with renewed enthusiasm
Be a team player
Being part of a team is perhaps one of the most intriguing and rewarding aspects of my work, both on a human and scientific level. A team works when everyone is given the opportunity to highlight their strengths and finds the help of the group to correct and improve their weaknesses. So the successes of the individual turn into the success of the team. In a team, you can be mentor and mentee at the same time… and have fun!
If you are interested in some tips on how to become a better team player, I recommend this article published in 2018 in Forbes.
Think outside the box
When we are very focused on our work, we tend to be monothematic. We always deal with the same topics, we read about the same subjects and we tend to compare ourselves with people who have a similar background to ours. This can sometimes lead us to lack of novelty in our projects. The most brilliant ideas are historically linked to inspirations that come from fields of science other than those in which we usually move. When you run out of ideas take the time to listen to a friend who works in the physics department or read a paper on mechanical engineering or go to a linguists’ conference and unleash your imagination!
How about you? What are the sources of inspiration that have shaped your path in Science? Share them with us below!