Speaker urges students not to pursue anything driven by vanity

Eric Feigl-Ding, PhD, Harvard School of Public Health and Toxin Alert website, gives the 2017 John and Valerie Rowe Scholars Visiting Lecture at the SU theatre on April 19th. He talked about his story of being successful as well as personal suggestion to college students. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

Eric Feigl-Ding, PhD, Harvard School of Public Health and Toxin Alert website, gives the 2017 John and Valerie Rowe Scholars Visiting Lecture at the SU theatre on April 19th. He talked about his story of being successful as well as personal suggestion to college students. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

On Wednesday evening, Eric Feigl-Ding presented his lecture “Pursuing Diverse Health Careers to Change the World: Why Dropping out of Medical School was the Best Decision of My Life.”

Feigl-Ding is an epidemiologist, nutritionist and health economist. He is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, and attended Boston University Medical School, before dropping out.

Feigl-Ding began by confronting the narrow-minded lens created by the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Summarizing ordinary motivations as what will make students most happy, what will award a strong paycheck or what will give students the best reputation in our field of study.

But Feigl-Ding said that it is a career in something that makes an impact, changes the world for the better that will be the most rewarding. For him, this was not medical school, despite all the work he had devoted to getting into one and hopefully graduating upon completion.

In a world where our society is constantly shaping the expectation of what the definition of success is, Feigl-Ding encouraged young students to follow the path where they can make the most satisfying impact on the world, and again, not pursue anything driven by vanity.  

“Your major, your thesis, are not your life work.  It’s to prove your mastery of something. In college you should be able to branch out and do anything,” said Feigl-Ding. “Life is about what you do, not your titles or number of letters behind your name. If you give the public what they want and need, and if it’s of importance, people will follow you.”

He is faculty at Harvard Chan School of Public Health, founder and executive director of ToxinAlert.org and chief economist for Microclinic International.

Feigl-Ding’s alternative career is now pursuing what he called “passion projects,” to explore his area of interest of public health in a way that will help the world become a healthier and happier place.

Feigl-Ding used his project ToxinAlert.org, which he founded, as an example. The organization advocates for routine government testing on public water systems to identify and eliminate sources of toxic drinking water.

This project was made successful by the extreme motivation behind achieving his dream.  This was one point that Feigl-Ding’s presentation highlighted for students.

“The world doesn’t really care about your degree. If you’re doing something worthwhile, the world will pay attention.  If you have a really great idea, even if there isn’t existing funding, there are a lot of people out there who will support you,” said Feigl-Ding.

Feigl-Ding’s heavy incorporation of personal anecdotes is what drove these points home.

“It’s really vital that whatever field you’re in or end up switching to, to be innovative. [Feigl-Ding] encouraged to use our brains, minds to be innovative, to bring out ideas, and market ourselves,” said eighth-semester nursing student Maame Obeng.

This lecture was part of the John and Valerie Rowe scholars Visiting Lecture Series, which brings “distinguished health care professionals, scholars and researchers to the Storrs campus annually to speak about critical topics in health care” (from UConn events calendar description). This program, which has been running for 12 years, is funded through an endowment by the Rowe Family Foundation and is also a part of the John and Valerie Rowe Health Professions Scholars Program.


Lucille Littlefield is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucille.littlefield@uconn.edu.