Thinking Big at a unique setting

Dr. Grinnell speaking at Thinking Big 2014.
Dr. Frederick Grinnell, Professor of Cell Biology, speaking at Thinking Big 2014.

By Lin Lofley

Speaking to a group that included about 150 prospective UT Southwestern Medical School students, four faculty members made the case for the institution and offered assurances and examples of how UT Southwestern Medical Center offers unique opportunities to college graduates embarking on the next step in their educational journey. 

Thinking Big is the brainchild of Gaurab Chakrabarti, a fourth-year M.D./Ph.D. student who was inspired by the acclaimed TED talks series to create a similar event on campus that’s aimed at students and has a health care focus.

“The speakers just blew me away, and I believe the audience felt the same,” said Mr. Chakrabarti, a Sugarland native who came to the medical center after earning a degree in neuroscience from Brown University. “I'm very thankful to the UT Southwestern administration for working with us to make this program a reality.”

The 2014 Thinking Big lineup featured:

  • Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, who talked about the history of legislative and electoral battles on stem cell research policy;
  • Dr. Elizabeth Maher, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, and Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, who explained the concept of the physician as detective;
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  • Dr. Frederick Grinnell, Professor of Cell Biology, who laid out for the crowd the nature of discovery; and
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  • Dr. Robert McClelland, Professor Emeritus of Surgery, who riveted the students with his recollections of Nov. 22 and Nov. 24, 1963, when he and fellow physicians in the trauma rooms at Parkland Memorial Hospital tried to save the lives of first President John F. Kennedy and then his presumed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
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“It’s exciting to be here,” said Dr. Maher, Director of the Crystal Charity Ball Center for Pediatric Brain and Neurological Diseases. “It brings back to me the memory of opening the envelope that said ‘You’re in.’ I still think about that, and about the feeling that the worrying, the waiting, the fear of not knowing what I was going to do with my life was gone.”

Dr. Maher told the college students to listen to patients, to take extra time to inquire as to what they’re thinking, and to inform them if they’re misinformed. “Medicine is the most amazing career that you’ll ever have,” she said.

Dr. Maher challenged the students to embrace the science. “Jump in everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re an ‘MS zero’ or a Ph.D. I want you to know that from the time that you’re an MS zero on, you are on the team. You have a seat at the table, and that is an incredibly important and powerful place to be.”

In the course of her remarks, Dr. Maher made reference to “the physician as detective.” Dr. Grinnell took that one step further when he discussed the importance of noticing the unexpected in discovery. He reminded everyone of the investigative similarities between the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and the fictional physician Dr. Gregory House, the main character of the medical drama that ran in prime time from 2004 to 2012.

Dr. Grinnell told the students that their lives in medicine will be engaged in discovery. “I’m interested in understanding what discovery means,” he said. “I got interested in discovery when I was a senior in college, the same as most of you are right now.”

His explanation of discovery began with Plato, the philosopher of ancient Greece, and culminated with the American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist Charles Sanders Peirce.

Dr. Grinnell, a cell biologist by training, has studied and written widely on bioethics. His presentation included several take-home messages for his audience. “Get interested in philosophy. If not now, when?” and “Be open to noticing, and perhaps pursuing, the unexpected.”

For his final point, Dr. Grinnell spoke to those who will arrive in Dallas come the fall: “Welcome to UT Southwestern.”

Welcoming the large crowd to campus on a Saturday morning was Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, who told the attendees that while there are challenges in their prospective careers in medicine, there is exciting opportunity.

“When I think of what’s possible, what you will be able to give your patients,” Dr. Podolsky said, “it’s really almost beyond imagining when I graduated medical school. There’s no doubt that you will be doing things that will fulfill you because they will fulfill your patients in ways that should truly be inspiring to each and every one of you.”

Dr. Podolsky also congratulated Mr. Chakrabarti and his team of students for bringing the event together, “and for Thinking Big.”

Mr. Chakrabarti said, “I got a lot out of this. From Dr. Morrison, I took away the idea that in science and medicine, your voice matters. From Dr. Maher, although problems might seem like ‘cold’ cases, you can’t let that dissuade you from still trying to solve them … in fact, let that uncertainty drive you to find answers.

“Dr. Grinnell encouraged me to take a step back and observe, that I might be surprised at what is discovered; and from Dr. McClelland’s recounting of Nov. 22, 1963, I learned that you never know in what situation you’ll be practicing medicine and to whom care will be given.”


Dr. Grinnell holds the Robert McLemore Professorship in Medical Science.

Dr. Maher holds the Theodore H. Strauss Professorship in Neuro-Oncology.

Dr. Morrison holds the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics.