By Radhika Viswanathan
Published: February 22nd, 2017
Brooklyn College has a large population of students interested in the sciences; according to the most recent Fact Book published by the Office of Institutional Planning, Research, and Assessment, about 27 percent of graduates in 2014-2015 were awarded degrees in one of the “pre-health” majors. Students who take traditional pre-health classes can pursue a variety of fields after graduation, including public health, medicine, and laboratory research. However, all of these career paths are filled with difficult exams and competitive applications, and many students feel overwhelmed as they navigate them.
In order to bring a fresh perspective to these students, the Magner Center organized a “Careers in Medicine and Health” panel yesterday afternoon. The panel consisted of two Brooklyn College alumni, Dr. Robert Levine and Dr. Michael Joseph, who spoke about their careers within science after graduating Brooklyn College.
The event commenced with a brief introduction of the two doctors. “I fell in love with chemistry,” Levine said, of his experience as a chemistry major at Brooklyn College. After graduating, he studied internal medicine at State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University and eventually became a professor at Yale University. While working as a practicing physician at Yale, he discovered a new passion: inventing. Levine’s first invention was the Quantitative Buffy Coat Analysis (QBC®) in 1976, which—even today—is a popular method of analyzing blood samples in a quick and efficient manner. Now, Levine has over 400 patents to his name, ranging from a malaria test to a way of collecting stool samples. He discussed his difficulties in getting patents approved, especially when companies don’t believe they will make money off of them.
Joseph’s experience at Brooklyn College was quite the opposite of Levine’s; he started on the pre-medical track, but, as he told the students at the panel, his first reaction to organic chemistry class was a resounding “Hell nah!” Instead, he decided to major in Health and Nutrition Sciences and pursue a doctorate in epidemiology, which is the study of the causes and distribution of health issues in certain populations. He currently works in the Arthur Ashe Institute of Urban Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where he specializes in the spread of HIV/AIDS in heterosexual black men, which he said is considered “the forgotten population with regards to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
Joseph, whose parents are Guyanese, also discussed the challenges he faced en route to his eventual success. He described dealing with prejudices while pursuing his Masters in Public Health at Yale. “You’re going to face so much adversity,” he said, speaking directly to students of color in the audience, “But don’t that ever let that affect you from achieving your dreams.”
The bulk of the event was a question and answer session, in which students largely asked for advice about entering the field of medicine and establishing their interests as undergraduates. Although both Levine and Joseph do very different work, their answers revolved around similar themes. Both emphasized the importance of finding mentors and doing work that truly strikes one’s passions.
One of the most important takeaways from the event was making use of the opportunities available through Brooklyn College. For example, as an undergraduate, Levine was able to spend a summer in Spain conducting research on antibodies. “As someone who wants to be a doctor, it’s inspiring to see people in my future career who went to my school,” said junior Robert Gurevich. “And they both mentioned my high school too, Brooklyn Tech.”
Both Levine and Joseph found Brooklyn College invaluable in that it provided them with people who encouraged and illuminated their career paths. “I’ve been blessed with very good mentors,” said Levine, listing some of his chemistry professors. “A mentor can’t solve your problems, but can tell you the rules.” Mentors can teach students how to work within a system and obtain the most out of it.
With regards to finding a mentor, both doctors agreed that the best way would be through talking to professors outside of the classroom, making it clear where your interests lie. “As faculty members we can tell the difference between students who come to office hours to brownnose,” said Joseph, “but then there are other students who are really interested in their course and really interested in their career and ask you questions.”
The event made it clear that finding and pursuing one’s passion, despite the challenges that may arise, is eventually worth it. For Gurevich, the most important lesson he learned was regarding his own career path: “I want to do something that will make me as excited about what I do as they are.”