BCMB Retreat 2012 – Keynote Speaker Profile: Enrique De La Cruz, PhD

Dr. Enrique De La Cruz earned his PhD from the BCMB program during years 1992-1997 with Dr. Thomas D Pollard (former professor and director of Cell Biology) as his thesis advisor. After postdoctoral training in the laboratories of Dr. H. Lee Sweeney and E. Michael Ostap at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he joined Yale University in 2001 as a tenure-track faculty member where he is now Professor in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. Read on to learn more about our esteemed keynote speaker’s journey in science…

Interest in Science

“I’d like to say that I got interested in science when I was four years old, shortly
after my parents gave me my first telescope or chemistry set, or perhaps that
I knew in first grade that I would be a scientist because I loved to take things
apart and try to put reassemble them, but that would be misleading and far
too romantic to be realistic or accurate. The truth is, I do not know when I got
interested in science. Well, at least not when it was something that I wanted
to do for the rest of my life. It is possible that I did in fact have a strong interest
in science when I was a toddler, but if so I was not aware of it until I was much
older. I do recall being very much interested in animals and biology when I was
in grade school as indicated from the fact that I would check out only animal and plant books from the school library. However, this later proved to be an interest in books comprised of pictures/photos with few words, reflecting a reading and writing deficiency that I still struggle with today (English is technically my second language; we spoke Spanish at home).”

“My pursuit of a scientific career was almost certainly a consequence of believing in the value of education – something my parents instilled in all of their children.  They reinforced in us the importance of learning and knowledge, referring to them among the very few things that cannot be taken away. I believed then and still do that education and learning – generally speaking, access to knowledge and information – should be readily available to all regardless of background, et cetera. It is powerful enough to lift one off of his/her knees, should they be born into such a situation.”

Why BCMB?

Dr. De La Cruz was asked the Question of the Month of last issue (Sept. 2012), and here is what he had to say: “This was a matter of good fortune and a little naivety,” explains Dr. De La Cruz. “I visited about a half dozen graduate programs on east and west coasts.  During my visit to Hopkins it became readily apparent that this was a special place.  A place where people – faculty, students, et cetera – valued and treated each other with respect and were less concerned with shining their medals and trophies than in achieving their collective mission to advance science education and training; a place where colleagues were valued based on their integrity, character, intellectual strength AND flexibility, as well as collegiality.” Although this was only a first impression, “it is one that I still hold today and sets the expectation of what I strive to achieve wherever I am.”

How did BCMB leave such a strong first impression?

Dr. De La Cruz credits the results of his simple “litmus” test. He elaborates, “It was quite simple. I just asked students about their classmates (what they worked on, where they were from; did they do things together) and asked professors about other professors. My litmus test was general: if they could answer even briefly that was a start, but if they continued without additional queries then they clearly had an interest in each other’s activities and well being. [At] Hopkins, [both students and faculty] knew a fair bit about each other and that was enough for me.”

Memorable experiences during his time at BCMB

BCMB is a tough and challenging, as well as a fun and exciting program! Dr. De La Cruz mentions one of the many memorable stories that comes to mind: “the burning wood bench at my first retreat (last time BCMB was allowed to that location).”  For more details or more on his many other adventures during his time at BCMB, you’ll have to ask Dr. De La Cruz himself!

Career Path

“It is fair to say that my career path and achievements are examples of what could happen when [both] mentors [and students] do their part. The truth is that I’ve had wonderful mentors and advisors guiding me through every step along the way.  Essentially every turn and curve in my career path was made according to their recommendations, encouragement, and support.  It seems natural in hindsight, but it was anything but that.  However, at every stage there was an understanding, perhaps belief, that if I worked hard and remained focused with “purpose” that good things will emerge.  This has in fact turned out to be true.  I have learned a lot and I have been fortunate to have exciting career opportunities at all stages. I’ve also met some pretty wonderful and interesting people along the way; in many respects this is the best and most fulfilling part of it all.”

Words of Wisdom

Dr. De La Cruz encourages current BCMB students to “make use of your faculty mentors and teachers at JHMI.  They are here because of a deep rooted and shared belief in science and education.  They have committed their lives to teaching, training, and the dissemination of knowledge to all; equally and fairly.  They are here to help you.  Sure they are all busy, but they WANT to help you.  Do not be mistaken and do not underestimate its significance.”

Finally, he adds, “Have fun!  This is an exciting, revealing, and hopefully fulfilling time of your life.  In some respects, it can also be the worst so hang in there and keep your chin up. And I thank JHU and BCMB for helping me through it, because it has been a wonderful ride and it is one that I would have missed otherwise.”

-Saif Al Qassim

One thought on “BCMB Retreat 2012 – Keynote Speaker Profile: Enrique De La Cruz, PhD

  1. Pingback: October Issue | BCMB News

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