On October 7th the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Gregg L. Semenza, Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe, and William G. Kaelin, Jr. for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability. Announcing the prize at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the Nobel committee stated that their discoveries have paved the way for “promising new strategies to fight anaemia, cancer, and many other diseases.”
Each year, the Nobel Prize celebrates the achievements of great scientists and philosophers and the path they have taken to be called a Nobel laureate. For Sir Peter Ratcliffe however, the road to the Nobel Prize took a path less traveled. Surprizingly, his initial paper on oxygen sensing was rejected by Nature in 1992. Ratcliffe presented evidence of genetic responses to hypoxia that was called “unfit for publication” and “beyond understanding.” I don’t know about Ratcliffe, but if my paper was rejected because the contect was beyond the reviewer’s understanding, I would take that as a complement.
Interestingly enough, this has not been the first time that a Nobel laureate’s research has been initially rejected. Theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed the Higgs model, had his theories rejected by Physics Letters in 1964. He went on to win the Nobel prize in Physics in 2013. Simillarly, Rosalyn Yalow, who won the Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1977, had her initial paper on radioimmunoassays rejected.
What can we learn from these storeis? It is a lesson we can all benefit from, NEVER GIVE UP! Science is hard, very hard. Science will always be hard. I cannot stress this enough. Arguably, the most important lesson I have learned in graduate school is that the only thing you can control is how hard you work. Believe in your science and keep pressing, even in the face of rejection! More so than most professions, a career in science and medicine is about constantly learning.
Publishing is our way of sharing our excitement and passion for science with the world. Do not be afraid of rejection and most importantly never give up on your science!
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