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Choosing a career: The decison to become a physician


Success at school and a sense of duty
Christian de Duve Scientist
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Now as a child I should say that... perhaps being slightly immodest, I was pretty bright. I learned to read before I was five, I had a governess who learned [sic] me to read, so by the time I went to school I could already read, I had read a number of books actually, and so I skipped a grade in school and went up quite quickly so that I left school, so-called humanities, at the age of 17, or not yet 17. And so, as I said I was pretty bright and I was pretty eager also, so I was the top of my class every year. I was really... this did not make me very popular because I was so tremendously... excited with having this brain that I could use all the time, solve problems and answer questions, and so on, so I was so eager... and the other boys at school did not particularly appreciate that... they liked to have their say from time to time. So, that's my recollection of school. I was also a very eager boy scout and as a boy scout I... I enjoyed, very much nature, I enjoyed tinkering with all kinds of things, outdoor life, sports. I was very active; I was really an active child. I think I was rather happy, on the whole, except for problems with the family fortunes and... and sometimes, not being quite popular with my schoolmates, but except for that I was rather, rather happy. Now the last point, perhaps, that I should mention, is religion. My family was Catholic, my mother in fact, had been educated as a Protestant, a Lutheran, but she had converted to Catholicism when she married my father. But among my other relatives there were Protestants, there were... in England there were Anglicans which meant they rarely went to church. And so on, so I was, again, the religious background was rather liberal. But, of course, I went to school, a Jesuit school, and I was... I was at that time, a very devout Catholic and I really felt that... being so bright I owed something to the world. I was very impressed with the... the parable of the five talents, I suppose it's called, where you know, you have to give back what you have received. And so I felt a certain responsibility, I took myself very seriously in a way, I mean it's rather terrible when I think about this, but that's the way it was.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: school life, childhood, bright, humanities, boy scout, schoolmates, religious background, Catholic

Duration: 3 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008