Interview with A Distinguished Colleague: Dr. Rob Christenson

Sharon Geaghan, MD


I had a chance to catch up with Rob via a virtual interview, and he shares his insights with you as the next in a series of conversations with distinguished colleagues in our discipline
Q1. How did you come to the career decision to choose Clinical Chemistry as your profession?

I started college as Physical Education major (and baseball player) after less than sterling academic performance in high school. By chance my roommate was a pre-med / chemistry major. We made a great life-long friendship and I changed my major to chemistry after one semester. He's now a thoracic surgeon on the faculty at Columbia. We both took a histology course as college seniors, which really hit home for me about biological changes that occur with disease, diagnosis, etc. When entering graduate school I was interested in organic chem. I soon found an interest in biochemistry and analytical chemistry, which led me down the path to clinical chemistry and laboratory medicine.
Q2. Did you have a mentor and if so what did he/she teach you?

My mentors have been many. Two that have had a big influence are John Shelburne, who was head of labs at Duke University, and Joe Keffer, both pathologists who very encouraging in my early academic years and taught me a great deal about love of work ethic, self-confidence and a passion for learning and asking questions about clinical science and medicine.
Q3. For newly-minted chemists, do you have any pearls of wisdom for career development?

Successful people focus. Find a niche for your research interests while at the same time remaining enthusiastic about the general nature of laboratory medicine. Never stop learning. When asked by colleagues to help with something try to never say no. Although one must be careful to not get over committed, good things (i.e. luck) comes to those who are collegial and make good use of their time. Never compromise the quality of your work and enjoy what you do.
Q4. What is the most enjoyable part of your professional work?

 A bit corny, but the warm feeling of satisfaction gained when the work you has the potential or reality of making a difference in people's lives. This can be through implementation of new or better processes and service in the clinical lab or through clinical research.
Q5. What is the hardest part of your professional work?

Completing all of the tasks I've agreed to in the timeframes specified. I always say that busy is good, and I (like many) have a hard time saying no. The problem is that if you have 50 tasks and you complete 49, it's that single one unfinished item that makes me feel regret. Trying not to be over committed is my biggest challenge.
Q6. The next generation of chemists has been characterized as looking for work-life balance. Do you have advice for them in managing that balance from your experience ?

Strive to be well organized and happy in both your personal and professional life. Decide who you are and what it is you really want to be. At the end of the day, family and friendships are most important, but for me professional satisfaction is also necessary for happiness. Make sure you have hobbies, and save something for yourself, without making it all about you.

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