Voices

Follow Your Curiosity

By Joseph Wakelee-Lynch

When Rebecca Skloot spoke to students about her college experiences, she summed up her advice in two words: “Wait! What?” Pay attention to what makes you curious, she said, because acting on it can change your life.

Skloot came to campus to speak about her book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which was chosen as this year’s Freshman Book — the book all first-year students are required to read before arriving on campus. Skloot’s book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer treatments in 1951 led doctors to remove some of her cells, without her knowledge, for study. Cell lines from those tissues, called HeLa cells, still are used for research, becoming immortal, so to speak.

Skloot learned about Lacks when a college biology professor wrote the name Henrietta Lacks on a blackboard one day. When he finished speaking about her, he erased the words. Skloot never forgot the name. Years later, she returned to a subject for which she never lost her curiosity. Today, her book is a best seller.

To LMU first-year students whose life plans may still be uncertain, the author recommended noticing one’s curiosity. Skloot said she was a mediocre student, earning a 0.5 GPA as a freshman. She later explored becoming a veterinarian and took every science course she could. But her writing classes allowed her to pursue the things that she simply had to know about and understand. When she wrote about research in the university’s animal morgue, the strong response from her classmates convinced her of the power of the written word. Today, she is a nationally known science writer who has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Discover and Glamour. Skloot also maintains a blog at rebeccaskloot.com/culturedish.

“Let your curiosity get the best of you while you’re here,” Skloot said. “Your success … often depends on your ability to trust your gut and follow your curiosity.”

Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is being made into an HBO film.