A profile of UT Austin chemist and professor Jonathan Sessler is inspiring scientists to share their stories about what drives them in their work.
As the subject of a front-page article in the Austin American-Statesman, Dr. Sessler recounts a lifetime spent battling cancer, first as a patient and then as a scientist.
In 2016, The University of Texas at Austin named Dr. Sessler its "Inventor of the Year." He holds dozens of patents, has a long history of entrepreneurial endeavors, and co-founded a biotech company that recently sold for $21 billion. He continues to work in his lab today toward a cancer treatment that will save lives by harnessing the power of a class of molecules he developed called texaphyrins.
According to the report:
Sessler says, "As a cancer survivor, I have no choice. I must try."
But he cautions against seeing his life as a story motivated by a tragic event like cancer. Perhaps, he said, his insights are instead rooted in simple curiosity. Or stubbornness. Or other qualities humanity possesses in abundance, qualities that drive not only scientists but poets, painters, coders, composers and others who attempt to create.
Sessler talks a lot about gratitude, particularly toward taxpayers: "It is of towering importance to me that they are getting the service they deserve." And he talks a lot about motivation as a counterpoint to disappointment: the real reason, when the pretensions are stripped away, that someone pursues a dream. Is it the acclaim that success brings or the work itself?
A social media campaign accompanying the report invites scientists to weigh in with their own stories of persistence. The newspaper asks, "Scientists: What drives you? What keeps you going through the hard days and the disappointments? Tweet your reasons to Marty Toohey," and a hashtag, #WhyDoSTEM, is being used to chronicle the responses.