Burcu Darst had the opportunity to interview Haitian native Olivier Noel, PhD, a sixth year in the MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program at Penn State College of Medicine. Before completing the PhD portion of his training, he founded his own company, DNAsimple, which streamlines genetics research by matching DNA donors to researcher studies investigating particular traits. He was recently recognized in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Science list and received a $200,000 investment on ABC’s Shark Tank for his company.
This is a bit tough to answer, as different situations really require a different set of skills and characteristics. Sometimes being an expert or really good at something makes you able to be a leader. Other times, the smart thing to do is to identify what it is that you cannot do as effectively and know when to rely on others to reach a set goal. But I do think that being thoughtful, hardworking, tenacious, and dynamic have been vital elements and characteristics in helping me achieve my accomplishments so far.
Well, the way I look at it is that something’s got to give, and in my case it is sleep. It’s obviously been a lot of work and responsibilities but I also try to incorporate some fun in there to keep some sort of balance. For example, I coach a U17 boys’ soccer team at least once a week, and I also play in a local league once a week. Achieving work-life balance can be hard but can also be done if we treat it as just as an important element of life, which I try to do.
After school as a high school senior, I used to volunteer and teach older folks who never had a chance to go to school how to read and write. Although that was not clinical in nature, it made me realize that I particularly enjoy working and helping folks achieve a goal or feel better about themselves, and I think that translates well into medicine. As far as the science part, I can still remember a simple decantation and purification experiment in my first chemistry class and thinking that chemistry was the coolest thing to do. Ultimately, combining the two passions of science and medicine continued to make sense to me as I moved along in my educational path and continues to now that I am a physician scientist in training.
A number of things really, but the fundamental reason was for more opportunities to maximize my potential and be able to have access to the educational system here. I knew in order to be in the forefront of technological and scientific advances, I had to be where the best people and institutions are, and so it was always a dream and goal of mine to continue to pursue my studies here in the States.
I’d like to continue to do and combine all three, really, and I think it makes sense to do so. My ideal scenario is being able to see a specific patient population and generate research studies based on what I see in the clinic and the need in the field. Ultimately, I want to take that knowledge and what has been discovered on the bench and bring it into the home of patients through companies. Too often I think great research findings “die” in awesome grants, papers, and prizes, and the population never actually get a chance to benefit from these findings.
Absolutely! I’ve been bouncing off a few ideas in the past year or so in terms of how I can have an impact in a number of areas. Ultimately, I want to be involved in leveraging some of the available technology in the medical and scientific field to impact the health care and scientific industries in Haiti.
Don’t limit yourself to what’s being given and presented to you. There are a lot of things that can be done with an MD or a PhD that deviate from the traditional residency/postdoc/assistant professor route. And so I think some of us need to venture out a bit and really find out what it is that they really want to do and how they can have an impact on others.