As a senior research scientist in protein biochemistry at Vertex, Bryan Vought, PhD, can measure his career as a series of ‘aha moments.’
“What is missing in the classroom is the thrill of these moments, when you know you have discovered something truly spectacular… these moments are the essence of exciting science,” said Dr. Vought. “Science in the classroom is akin to a foreign language course, they have to learn the language before they can apply it in the real world, but students don’t typically experience these moments and therefore can’t fully appreciate how rewarding a career in science can be.”
Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated and Boston Public Schools recently teamed up to try to change that and give students the opportunity to experience exciting science in a real world lab. The goal of the collaboration is to enhance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and prepare students for college and STEM-related careers.
Vertex focuses on two BPS high schools in South Boston — Boston Green Academy and Excel High School — where programs will aim to increase student participation and achievement in advanced placement courses and prepare teachers for the national “Next Generation Science Standards” being implemented next year. Vertex also will dedicate a new 3,000 square foot learning laboratory being constructed at its future headquarters in the Innovation District in Boston. The learning laboratory will be available for use by BPS and other community groups, allowing students and teachers to conduct scientific projects alongside Vertex scientists.
Vought believes that it is important to bring students into the lab to show them a side of science they may have never experienced.
“Their initial reaction is surreal – once they put on lab coats and safety glasses they begin to visualize themselves in a career in science, the experience immediately raises their awareness for a potential career option to explore,” said Vought.
Vought then has the opportunity to open up a world of possibilities based on what they would be able to do with a chemistry degree.
“You can build molecules, develop new drugs, predict how the body will metabolize drugs, decide formulations and determine potential delivery mechanisms – there is so much that can be done with a chemistry degree yet their initial impression is very limited,” said Vought.
Students most frequently underestimate how much collaboration and teamwork are required to work in a lab as there are opportunities available for many different education and skills levels.
Yet there is no escaping this hard truth – which Vought is quick to point out to students – there is no short cut to putting in the time and effort required to learn ‘the language of science’ and achieve greatness through scientific discovery.
“Michael Jordan was great because he spent many thousands of hours working on his skills and practicing, and it is the same for scientists – you have to put in the time,” said Vought.
“Sometimes I forget how cool science can be, even at the most basic level,” said Vought. “Students react to simple things and that reignites my appreciation for this field, and pushes me to inspire and enlighten more students on the opportunities available within the world of science.”