Interview with Al Sommer - Effort Report Episode 23

Roger Peng

My colleage Elizabeth Matsui and I had a great opportunity to talk with Al Sommer on the latest episode of our podcast The Effort Report. Al is the former Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the School. He is (among other things) world reknown for his pioneering research in vitamin A deficiency and mortality in children.

Al had some good bits of advice for academics and being successful in academia.

What you are excited about and interested in at the moment, you’re much more likely to be succesful at—because you’re excited about it! So you’re going to get up at 2 in the morning and think about it, you’re going to be putting things together in ways that nobody else has put things together. And guess what? When you do that you’re more succesful [and] you actual end up getting academic promotions.

On the slow rate of progress:

It took ten years, after we had seven randomized trials already to show that you get this 1/3 reduction in child mortality by giving them two cents worth of vitamin A twice a year. It took ten years to convince the child survival Nawabs of the world, and there are still some that don’t believe it.

On working overseas:

It used to be true [that] it’s a lot easier to work overseas than it is to work here because the experts come from somewhere else. You’re never an expert in your own home.

You can listen to the entire episode here: