We asked the 2014 essay contest winner, Peter Soh, to share his thoughts about how this award has affected his professional development and his views on communicating medical and science issues with the public.
Q: How has winning the 2014 Lasker Essay Contest affected you?
Winning the 2014 Lasker Essay Contest was an honor, and to be recognized for my essay was motivating. I am thankful to those whom I have had the opportunity to learn from on a professional, personal, and spiritual level.
Attending the Lasker Awards was an experience that allowed me to connect the knowledge taught in medical school to the researchers in a more personable way. For me, the basic science content and clinical application of research has been complemented by personal stories and advice from the Lasker Award researchers during the Breakfast at Lasker event.
Q: Has winning this contest inspired you to get involved in a broader dialogue with your peers and/or policy makers?
I would be interested in initiating a dialogue with policy makers to better understand the specific challenges in advancing medical-research funding. In order to engage in a broader dialogue, I think specific incentives that create demand from both policy makers and the general population in investing in medical research funding need to be ascertained. To broaden this dialogue, there also needs to be a plan to collect data that can track the cost-benefit on increased government funding in medical research.
It would be interesting to see how the Lasker Foundation can use the essay contest ideas to progress medical research funding.
Q: What was your favorite moment at the 2014 Lasker Awards ceremony?
The Breakfast at Lasker was a unique and memorable moment. I had the opportunity to sit with the Lasker Award winners and ask them questions about their careers and the challenges they faced. I asked a question about competition and its role in research. Dr. Marie-Claire King gave an insightful response on how society has progressed from the 1960s in terms of encouraging competition among women with the passage of Title IX. It was meaningful to hear the different responses by the awardees. A common theme throughout the breakfast was to pursue what interests you the most, and to not be afraid to take risks.
Q: How did you prepare for the essay contest?
When I first read the essay topic in mid-June, I was interested in developing an idea. Although I was busy with summer research, I did not intend to create and write the essay in a relatively short period of time. The ability to write an essay of this nature was facilitated by my interest in the topic. The content of the idea drew from past educational and life experiences as well as research and classroom experiences at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. The criterion I used after writing the final draft was whether or not I had unwavering conviction in the idea.
My advice for future participants is to write on what interests you the most. Proofread your document because this is your deliverable. Be open-minded when listening, because knowledge can also come from unexpected interactions.
Q: What would you say to MD and PhD students if they asked why it is important to participate in this essay contest?
The essay contest allows for free expression of thought and creativity reviewed in a meritocratic process by a board with exceptional experience in their respective fields. The Lasker Foundation is investing their time to read your idea, which is a special opportunity. In return, your winning contribution can provide traction for future actions. It’s also valuable to be able to read other essays that were selected by the Lasker Foundation to understand different perspectives on the topic.
Q: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years, I see myself creating value for society by serving patients either on an individual or public health level. I have been blessed with many life and educational experiences, and it is important to me that I use these experiences to maximize my potential as a physician. I hope that my work will also be innovative.