Chapter 10: A Critical Point in a Career: Crisis and Key Decisions

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Chapter 10: A Critical Point in a Career: Crisis and Key Decisions

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In this chapter, Dr. Arlinghaus talks about his process of choosing a job after his Fellowship period at the University of Kentucky.He recalls a key event at a Gordon Conference where he was "grilled" about his discovery of the ribosome process.He notes that he was shy and unsure of himself, despite his professional success, so when he met a researcher from the Plum Island Animal Disease Laboratory in Greenport, NY, he decided to take a job there (1965 - 1969).Dr. Arlinghaus reflects on the fact that it was a mistake not to take an assistant professorship, but to take a safe route at Plum island after being "beat up" at the Gordon Conference.He talks about another factor: his wife, Barbara, was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia and died thirty months later, in 1967.Dr. Arlinghaus states that he also needed to take a safer career route because of this family tragedy and insecurity (he was working two jobs).Dr. Arlinghaus ends this chapter with the observation that he has always conducted unique research.

Identifier

ArlinghausR_02_20140402_C10

Publication Date

4-2-2014

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Personal Background; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Personal Background; Professional Path; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine; On Research and Researchers; Obstacles, Challenges; Contributions; Activities Outside Institution; Career and Accomplishments

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. So what happened next? You had the research fellowships and then …

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well anyway, I left. [I was] at Schweet’s lab and I started looking for a job, because now I was --- and I had offers to go to several different medical schools as an assistant prof, as assistant professor. But again my shyness or my, what to call it, maybe insecurity. I don’t know. I still had some of that coming from a small town, small school, not a very educated environment. So I didn’t know if I could compete, even though I made this marvelous discovery about how peptide bonds were formed on ribosomes. I was still a little bit unsure of myself. So I happened to go to a Gordon conference. I don’t know if you know what those are. Dick Schweet sent me to talk about this work on how peptide bonds are formed, and I’m thinking about this. I’m thinking about what part of the story I want to tell you about that. My mechanism of how peptide bonds were formed on ribosomes was so new that when I presented this story, there were other young post docs in that meeting one of which was a very aggressive. I would call him mean. But anyway, he took me to task to grill me thinking that I made all this stuff up, although he never said that. And so I dealt with him and I met a guy at Gordon conference who was Director of Research at Plum Island Animal Disease Laboratory and I didn’t have to write grants to do research there. So I made a mistake in my career. Instead of following up my discovery in Dick Schweet’s lab on how peptide bonds were formed on ribosomes --I should have had the confidence to go to The University of Florida or The University of Indiana, which I could have gone to as assistant professor tenure track. I took a safe route and I went to this animal disease laboratory at Plum Island to work on foot and mouth disease virus. Completely changed. Completely changed, and helped those people do modern molecular biology at Plum Island. That was like a --- What’s that? What do we say? Big fish in a little pond. Whereas at Schweet’s lab I was a fish in a very, very big pond some of which didn’t believe what I did and it took several years of people publishing my work to find out what I did was correct, and that felt very good when other people would list the Arlinghaus paper as being correct. This is how peptide bonds --- how proteins are made on ribosomes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That must have been a very complicated time. I mean have the feeling as though you had this strength and confidence in your laboratory creativity and your abilities, but then there was this other piece. How do I work in the academic world? How do I negotiate that?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well see, in the academic world, people are always doubting new discoveries, and there I was making a new discovery, this postdoc from Schweet’s lab. And, you know, I got plenty of opportunities to go follow that up. But after getting beat up at this Gordon conference by this postoc who --I don’t even remember his name and whatever-- but eventually he found out he was way off base . So I, you know, that’s the way science is. If you make a ver --- if you’re really ahead of your field, you’re going to get criticized, and the doubting Thomases will come in and create doubts about your work, and that’s what happens. It still happens. It happens all the time if you’re that far ahead.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What did your mentors say at the time? I mean did they --- were they concerned that you were making this decision?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

No. Because I had another postdoc in the lab that I reproduced my results.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

No, no. I don’t mean did they not believe. I mean when they saw you making a decision to go to Plum Island as opposed to taking an academic position, did any of them say, Hey wait a minute. I’m worried that maybe you’re making the wrong decision?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Well something else happened in my life at that time. My third child was delivered in February of 1966 and my wife Barbara developed chronic myeloid leukemia. She delivered him having chronic myeloid leukemia. We didn’t know that, but her --- but I was the happiest guy in the world because I had two girls and had a baby boy. Barbara and I were happy. But the next morning I found out she had chronic myeloid leukemia, a lethal disease. So then that’s another reason I didn’t want to gamble and go to some tenure track position. So I decided to take the safe route, take a government job in a government laboratory to work on foot and mouth disease virus. In retrospect, it was a mistake but it was the safe route.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah at the time.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

And other people --- other professors at The University of Kentucky they understood that because it was --- it was a disaster for me and for my wife, who lived 30 months and died.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, my gosh, wow. And you talked last time about how that really transformed your career at that point.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

It did. It did. Yeah. So anyway I did some --- published some nice papers at Plum Island and then Barbara died of CML and I --- I think I told you I decided I was going to work on chronic myeloid leukemia.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And when did she die?

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

She died in 1967 of October. I had three children, single.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Very hard. Very, very hard.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

Working two jobs and wrote a science paper while I was at Plum Island on work I was doing on foot and mouth disease virus. So it was so important that I was able to publish in Science. So I always did things that were unique, you know? So in any event I think that brings us back to …

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, kind of back to the MD Anderson part.

Ralph B. Arlinghaus, PhD:

I went to MD Anderson and worked on _______ ) leukemia virus and made some pioneering discoveries there. So what I’d like to say to you is, every place that I’ve worked I made unique, reproducible, exciting, new findings and that led me to where I am. I’m still doing it.

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Chapter 10: A Critical Point in a Career: Crisis and Key Decisions

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