Opher Shai Kornfeld delivers the 2018 Commencement Address to the Graduates

Opher Shai Kornfeld was selected as the PhD representative to deliver the Address to the Graduates at the 2018 School of Medicine Convocation Ceremony held on Saturday, June 16th. A transcript of his Address is included below and a video can be viewed by clicking here. Congratulations Opher!

Good afternoon Dean Minor, Senior Associate Dean Talbot, faculty, School of Medicine, Office of Graduate Education, and home program staff, friends, family, and class of 2018 graduates. It is an honor to be speaking to all of you today.

Following one of my first presentations in graduate school, I got an anonymous feedback form that said that my talk felt too polished and that perhaps a bit of self-deprecation may help connect with an audience. So, I’d like to start by sharing with you my list of fears, seems appropriate for a graduation speech. I am scared of the first 15 seconds of a public talk, Californians in cars, Stanford undergraduates on bikes, just about every animal that has been spotted on the dish, and when I began my PhD, I was scared of failing. I must admit, this is an odd position to be in. Much like my colleagues, I spent the last several years learning just how much I did not know so for me to impart words of wisdom at the end of such journey seems out of place. Furthermore, there is no single path to attain a PhD, each one of ours was different. But there is one thing we all learned how to do very well, regardless of the discipline-specific jargon we may choose to overwhelm you with. We learned how to fail. So here we go, three lessons from failing:

Lesson number one: working hard does not guarantee success, nevertheless success requires hard work. This was a tough one to learn. Many of us arrived at Stanford as the top students of our respective undergraduate institutions, with an unfortunate misconception: it will work if you just put more time and all-nighters into it. While this is generally true when your path is clearly paved, science research doesn’t work that way. The living systems we study are complex and unpredictable, our hypotheses are daring, and we must first develop the tools we need to answer our questions. As we learned to overcome the challenges we have set before us, we mastered a combination of grit and creativity. This means that following long hours, days, months, culminating in disappointment, we returned to the bench, our eyes red and our blood fueled with determination, curiosity, and caffeine, ready to confront our challenge from a completely different direction. Here at Stanford, we have spearheaded the notion that the problems we seek to understand, which would have the most profound impact on our society, have roots in numerous fields. To solve them, we had to cross traditional academic boundaries. We learned to be humble as we dove into new disciplines, guided by an ill-defined path, hoping that this time we might find our answer, even if it means failing again.

Lesson number two: find those who believe in you and ask them for help. I learned this one early on, back in middle school as a new immigrant. It turns out that the bigger you dream and the more broken your English sounds when expressing those dreams, the fewer people will be there to cheer you on as you pursue them. A few months after landing in the United States, still unable to form complete sentences in English, I decided to enter our middle school’s spelling bee. Let me clarify, this is not a miraculous graduation story. I crashed on the first word and was ridiculed by the classmates around me. Middle schoolers can get mean, but reviewer #2 will likely be meaner. And much like learning a new language in a new country, the PhD experience gets isolating. I owe my sincere gratitude to the rare few back in middle school that did not overlook my presence and capabilities that I struggled to communicate. They empowered me to find the voice that you are hearing today. We wouldn’t have crossed our finish line if it weren’t for those who picked us up at our lowest, and also from what we learned can at times get even worse. Our advisers and mentors pushed us, demanded more, but patiently reassured us. Our friends listened to us, carried our fears, and celebrated our victories, big and small. And our families sacrificed for us, believing in us at times when we did not believe in ourselves. Failing meant learning that you cannot always do it alone and that it is okay to find and ask for help.

Lesson number three: facing and overcoming obstacles drives innovation. Dean Minor, the individuals sitting behind me are some of the best failers I know. Now, my English is much better than it used to be, but let me still emphasize: failers not failures (I know failer is not word, but I already told you that I am not a great speller). We now know to appreciate that if it were easy, someone else would have done it before us. To truly advance our knowledge and move our society forward, we must accept that there will be set-backs, that the path ahead will rarely be visible, and that we will fail before we succeed. And you have prepared us for that. After watching each other fail, bounce back, relentlessly chase hidden truths, and thrive, I am confident that there is no one better poised to re-write textbooks, discover the next cure, and change policy than my fellow classmates.

Graduating class of 2018, I’d like to end with some wishes as we begin our journey to become leaders in our respective fields. You are now scholars. You know how hard it is to uncover true knowledge, so never settle for anything less. Be daring and creative as you seek solutions to change and improve the world around you. When you discover something new, share it. Remember that you did not get your doctorate alone. Mentor, inspire, listen, and care for others in the same way people have done for you so that you can be here today. And finally, don’t be afraid to fail. Congratulations class of 2018.

Dr. Daria Mochly-Rosen and graduate student Julie Saiki featured in Stanford Medicine News

Chemical and Systems Biology Professor Dr. Daria Mochly-Rosen and graduate student Julie Saiki were featured in Stanford Medicine News regarding a collaboration between clinical and basic science researchers that has led to the identification of a compound that could improve the quality of life for head and neck cancer patients. To read the full Stanford Medicine News article titled “Compound in citrus oil could reduce dry mouth in head, neck cancer patients,” click here. An additional blog post on this press release is available on Stanford Medicine Scope by clicking here.

Photo by Jessica Lewis

Amit Joshi, Nay L Shaw, Hannes Vogel, Anna D Cunningham, Mehrdad Shamloo, Daria Mochly-Rosen, and Carlos Gonzalez featured on the cover of EMBO Molecular Medicine

The March 7 2018 issue of EMBO Molecular Medicine features a research paper, “Inhibition of Drp1/Fis1 interaction slows progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” by Amit Joshi, Nay L Saw, Hannes Vogel, Anna D Cunningham, Mehrdad Shamloo, and Daria Mochly-Rosen. To read the full research article, click here.

The EMBO Molecular Medicine cover image was designed by CSB graduate student Carlos Gonzales.

Congratulations to all!

SPARK featured in SCOPE, a Stanford Medicine Blog

At international meeting, SPARK sets sights on global health threats

After her team developed a compound with the potential to reduce the effects of heart attacks, Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD, a professor of chemical and systems biology at Stanford, wanted to get it into the hands of patients right away. Yet she needed a pharmaceutical company partner and that, she learned, wasn’t so easy to come by.

Following her positive experience founding a biopharma company, she launched a program called SPARK to make it easier for researchers like her to shepherd their laboratory discoveries into clinical therapies. Now in its 11th year, the SPARK program recently held its third international meeting (called SPARK Global) in Tokyo. The mood was upbeat and the attendees, who included leaders from many of the 40 institutions spanning six continents with SPARK programs, dove into two days of hard work, Mochly-Rosen told me.

Among the accomplishments at the global meeting was the launch of a “moonshot” initiative called Imagine. The team is still winnowing down proposals for the focus of the first moonshot, Mochly-Rosen said, but its idea is simple: “We will tackle global challenges and threats. All of us together can do much more than each of us alone can do.”

This isn’t SPARK’s first foray into global problem solving: the program connected vaccine researchers at Stanford with those in Brazil to combat the Zika virus, she explained.

The Tokyo meeting also highlighted SPARK Global’s growth. What started as a program at Stanford to help researchers identify experiments to confirm their original observations, carry out proof of concept studies, design development paths for the drug and set up small clinical studies has now spawned programs across the world.

“We are now big enough, so need to think about the organizational goals and global challenges and solutions,” Mochly-Rosen said.

SPARK at Stanford holds a 60 percent success rate, meaning that 60 percent of the ideas advance to licensing and/or clinical trial, she explained.

“Our overarching goal is to create this network of scientists and clinical researchers ‘without borders’ who are interested in addressing unmet needs without regard to economic outcome,” Mochly-Rosen said. “Our overall goal is patients, patients, patients.”

Photo courtesy of SPARK Tokyo

Original blog by Becky Bach, Stanford Medicine SCOPE