View from the top: Advice from Dr Robert Langer

Guests at a QEPrize event talk with Dr Robert Langer who's back is turned to the camera.

Categories: QEPrize

21 May 2015


We at down with Dr Robert Langer to hear some of his advice

Dr Robert Langer FREng is an American engineer and one of 11 Institute Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the highest honour that can be awarded to a faculty member. Prior to this role, he was the Germeshausen Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. Langer is an internationally acclaimed inventor and engineer, with over 1,000 issued and pending patents and 1,300 published articles. His research and entrepreneurship focus on the field of bioengineering; he is a chemical engineer who became a pioneer in drug delivery, tissue engineering, and nanotechnology.

Follow your passion.

Don't take a job that pays a lot of money, take a job where you are doing something you love. I've had a number of students who come to see me for advice and they tell me they have to major in a field because their parents say it will pay well. They are sometimes very upset because they don't like that major. I think it's important to follow your passion. When I graduated from college I took by far the lowest paying job I received, but I took it because I thought it would enable me to do something where I could make an impact on people's lives. Interestingly, the discoveries I made led to patents and companies, and I'm certain I've made more money this way than I would have if I had taken any of the higher-paying jobs.

Dream big dreams, dreams that can change the world.

I've also had a number of students who are absolutely brilliant but they are terribly concerned about doing risky things career-wise. But I think dreaming big dreams and taking risks gives one a chance to do something very meaningful. I've always been a dreamer and I think it's helped me to do the things I've done.

Don't ever give up.

Companies like DuPont, Dow chemical and federal express almost failed multiple times in their early days but they persevered and they are all remarkably successful. Milton Hershey wanted to start a candy store as a young man and he failed over and over. But he kept trying and today Hershey's chocolate is one of the most successful candy enterprises in the world. In my case, I got my first 9 research grants rejected and no engineering department would hire me as a faculty member (I was originally in a nutrition department). But I kept trying and I was fortunate to make some discoveries that led to my receiving this prize - the most prestigious engineering prize in the world.

Conventional wisdom is not always correct.

Not everything you read or are taught is correct. Often discoveries are made that challenge existing dogma. In my case, scientists and engineers and the literature told me that certain substances couldn't pass through certain plastics. But we discovered a way that they could, which enabled the creation of many controlled drug delivery systems. On a related note, if you can disprove conventional wisdom, you can most likely get a very good patent.

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