Interview with Robert J. Lefkowitz on 10 December 2012 during the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, Sweden.
Congratulations Professor! I think you must be the happiest laureate I have met.
Robert Lefkowitz: Why not? There’s so much to be happy about. It’s just a wonderful experience.
I know you have been looking forward to this. This trip, this prize – how has it been so far?
Robert Lefkowitz: Very very hectic. In a way we almost don’t get a chance to look forward to it too much, because we are so busy with interviews and preparations and just doing things for the press etcetera. Now finally we are here and it’s happening and it is just remarkable.
You’re known to be a person that makes other people glow – a great mentor – how do you manage? What’s your recipe?
Robert Lefkowitz: This is a very good question. I think that for most things of this nature, there probably isn’t a recipe. I try to teach my fellows that we are all born with certain gifts and with certain deficiencies. You have to play … The key to be successful I think is to emphasize your strengths and try to stay away from your deficiencies. One of my gifts, I guess, is that I have a great level of enthusiasm for what I am doing and that seems to be infectious. If I am enthusiastic about something everybody around me seems to get enthusiastic about it. I once looked up the derevation of the word enthusiasm. It comes from the Greek and apparently literal derevation means “a God within” this enthusiasm. I think enthusiasm is just something bubbling up from inside you and I think it’s a wonderful thing to bring to your work, because if you bring that kind of enthusiasm to your work, it feels like play.
You are a quite focused person, very dedicated. Were you dedicated to your piano playing?
Robert Lefkowitz: No, I was terrible at the piano. My mother insisted that I’d take piano lessons and I hated … The low point of my week – I had weekly lessons – the low point of my week was when I would walk into the studio and have to perform for my teacher and he would say, “You’re not doing very well” and I’d say, “I know” and he’d say, “Did you miss any days this week, of practice?” – I was supposed to practice an hour a day – and I’d say, “Well, I guess I did” and he’d say, “How many did you miss?” and I would have to say, “Well, six”, so not very much practice.
But how did you do then, how did it all end?
Robert Lefkowitz: It ended poorly. I stopped taking lessons eventually because everybody realized I had absolutely no talent nor no interest, so we moved down to other areas.
You’re in a gang of Nobel Laureates now, and many of them are colleagues of yours.
Robert Lefkowitz: Good friends and colleagues.
Have you started a club, like secret one with a secret code?
Robert Lefkowitz: Not really a secret club, but it is remarkable. There was a little essay published in a very prominent journal called Science just last week written by two of my closest friends and colleagues Mike Brown and Joe Goldstein from Dallas Southwestern university, he is a prior laureate. They were sitting behind me – which I had no idea that would be the case – they were directly behind me on the stage, there was a row of former laureates. It turned out that they wrote an essay, the impetus to which was my being awarded the Nobel Prize. The theme of the essay was that there were nine of us now – who had won the Nobel Prize – who trained at the National Institute of Health, physician scientists in an eight-year period between the mid–1960s and the early 1970s. It’s a remarkable record.
Think about starting a secret club, it could be something! Thank you very much professor and enjoy this evening.
Robert Lefkowitz: I intend to. Thank you so much.
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