Chapter 01: An Educated Family and an Early Interest in Science

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Chapter 01: An Educated Family and an Early Interest in Science

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In this chapter, Dr. Benjamin talks about the influence of his parents. His father, Bernard, was a pediatrician who had his office in their home. His mother, Helen, was a PhD biochemist who eventually taught physiology at Hunter College. They instilled in him a love of learning, and listening to the babies screaming in his father's office convinced him not to be a pediatrician. His father taught him about chemistry before he took it in school and Dr. Benjamin explains what he found fascinating about the subject.

Identifier

BenjaminR_01_20141212_C01

Publication Date

12-12-2014

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Personal Background; Personal Background; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Funny Stories

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

All right. We are recording. I’m Tacey Ann Rosolowski, and today is December 12th, 2014. I am in Sarcoma Medical Oncology in the Faculty Center, the twelfth floor, in the office of Dr. Robert S. Benjamin, and I’m conducting this interview for the Making Cancer History Voices Oral History Project run by the Research Medical Library at MD Anderson. Dr. Benjamin came to MD Anderson in 1974. Is that correct?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Yes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And what was the department affiliation for you at that time?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Developmental Therapeutics.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. Because I had not found that detail at this point. Today, however, Dr. Benjamin is Chair of the Department of Sarcoma Medical Oncology in—

Robert Benjamin, MD:

No.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

No? When did you leave that position?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

A couple of years ago.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, okay. So 2012?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

I don’t know. Let’s see. 2012 is what it says on the chair.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. Okay. You can tell that I didn’t have fully updated information. (laughs)

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Retired chair.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Retired chair. But you were chair from 2000 to 2012, as I understand. Is that correct?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Yeah. Well, complicated. I mean, I was basically chair from 1993 on, but the department changed names.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. Well, we’ll get that story, I’m sure, which will be very interesting, because it’s all about the structure, structure, and all of that.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. But today you’re in the Department of Sarcoma Medical Oncology, and you are also the P.H. and Faye E. Robinson Distinguished Professor in the Division of Cancer Medicine.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Correct.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay, good. This interview is being conducted in Dr. Benjamin’s office. I think I mentioned that. This is the first of two planned interview sessions, and the time right now is twenty-five minutes after nine. So, thank you very much, Dr. Benjamin, for agreeing to participate in this.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

My pleasure.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I wanted to start in the traditional beginning for an oral history project, oral history interview, and ask you can you tell me where you were born and when, and tell me a little bit about where you grew up.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

I was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. My father was a pediatrician. His office was the ground floor of our house. My mother had a PhD in biochemistry. Mind you, she was born in 1900.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I was going to say that I’m sure that was very unusual.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

But not the most unusual member of her family, because her older sister, who was somewhere approximating ten years older, was the first woman to graduate with a Doctor of Medicine from Columbia P&S.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

My mom was a biochemist and a physiologist and who, after I grew up to the point where she felt comfortable leaving the house again, she went on to teach physiology at Hunter College.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What were your parents’ names?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

My mother was Helen. My father was Bernard.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Would you care to share your birth date?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

I was born April 20th, 1943.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow. So that’s really an incredible legacy to have in your family with all of this education. So tell me how that affected you.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Well, I guess they instilled in me a love of learning, and my proximity to my father’s office convinced me very early in life that I did not want to be a pediatrician, because every afternoon when I came home from school, I always heard children crying downstairs. I figured, I didn’t know, I didn’t think my father was that mean, but I didn’t like the crying, so I decided that pediatrics was not for me.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

But you were thinking about becoming a physician then?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Well, no, I was just thinking about being a scientist, maybe being a physician, maybe being a biochemist like my mom. Wasn’t quite sure. Probably not till I was in college did I decide that I’d sort of rather do medicine than chemistry.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Tell me how your interest in the sciences evolved.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

I went to high school at Brooklyn Friends, which was a wonderful school, and I had very good teachers in math and science, and my father tutored me a little bit in chemistry before I actually even took a course.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Why was that?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

He was interested. He was reading a book—I don’t remember the author, but it was called the Electronic Theory of Valency—and he really liked that book. And I saw him reading it and he was saying, “Oh, gee, this is interesting and this is interesting.” And curiosity. I asked him what, you know, and he started teaching me from that book.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

You still remember the title.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So, what—I mean, were you jazzed by it at the time?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

I don’t know. I mean, I really enjoyed learning it. I enjoyed chemistry. It was very logical, and just understanding how compounds got together, how elements got together to form compounds was interesting. I had very good teachers when I was growing up. My math teacher in high school always sort of gave me challenging problems outside of what we were learning in class, so that there was always something to be learning about, and so I did that and really enjoyed it.

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Chapter 01: An Educated Family and an Early Interest in Science

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