How to Think: Video Transcript

Pamela K. Mason, MD (BA Chemistry and History, Miami, 1995) [Cardiac Electrophysiologist and Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Virginia]: My education at Miami did an outstanding job of preparing me for my career. One of the most important things about higher education isn't to teach you what to think, it's to teach you how to think. I spent a lot of time doing research with the Department of Chemistry when I was here at Miami, and that experience very much set me up for my current career as a researcher and a physician. Even though I don’t do research in chemistry anymore, that experience very much prepared me to be the researcher that I am now.

I was a chemistry major here at Miami, and as part of my chemistry major I took biochemistry. And, when I started here at Miami I wasn't quite sure what it is that I wanted to do long term, but taking that biochemistry class was really what sort of made me think that perhaps medicine was something that I really might want to pursue. Biochemistry is very foundational for medicine, and certainly is part of any medical curriculum, and thinking about how, at a cellular level, medications may work and whatnot was really what made me think that medicine may be the career for me.

One of the most outstanding experiences that I had while I was at Miami was being able to do basic science research one-on-one with a faculty member. I spent a year and a half working in Dr. Ann Hagerman's lab doing biochemistry research. I learned a great deal about the scientific method, about statistics, and really made some relationships with other scientists that I'm hoping are going to last my entire life.

While I was working in Dr. Hagerman's lab we did research on phlorotannins. Phlorotannins are a protein found in marine plants, and we studied the protein-binding connections. While that is very different than the research that I do today, those basic processes of learning how to think about scientific questions, address them, analyze data and ultimately, get that information to publication was a really valuable experience.

A liberal education is incredibly important for people who end up being scientists or physicians as I have done. Understanding science is very important to what I do, but I also need to be able to communicate that information to other physicians, other scientists, and also to the lay public, so having good communication skills, good writing skills, the ability to speak publicly are all very important skills that are integral to what I do.

Some of the classes that I took at Miami that I look back on most fondly are actually ones that had nothing to do with my major.I took classes in English literature, which at the time seemed like somewhat of a burden, and one of the classes that I took was actually a children's literature class, and now that I have a family of my own, being able to share those books that I studied while I was here at Miami with my children is a lot of fun and really very enjoyable.

For chemistry majors at Miami, my advice would be to keep your minds open to the possibilities. A chemistry major can launch you into many different fields. There are many things to consider other than just graduate school, or medical school, although those are great options as well. When I was an undergraduate at Miami, I had never specifically heard of what it is that I do for a living now, specifically that I'm a heart rhythm doctor, however, my education prepared me very well to go to medical school and to do what I am doing today. So, I would encourage all chemistry majors at Miami to be open to various possibilities, because there are many.

[March 2015]