Robert J. Mayer, MD
Oncology and hematology arguably attracts more research funding, more media attention, and more talented minds than any other medical specialty—but that wasn’t always the case. When Robert J. Mayer, MD, graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1969, the profession was just emerging from its infancy. Its training programs were still a work-in-progress, and it struggled to attract top researchers.
Within a week of returning to San Francisco, he had appointed me to a committee. He basically mentored me from across the country. He gave me the opportunity to do truly meaningful work far faster than I could have done otherwise, and he has done the same for a number of accomplished researchers.”
A Commitment to Mentoring
Mayer’s commitment to mentoring may stem from the difference between his years as a college undergraduate and his years as a medical student. During the former, Mayer developed a deep and lasting relationship with a faculty adviser who helped him make the most of his time inside and outside the classroom. During the latter, Mayer’s adviser left a few months into his first year, and the school did not replace him. Mayer overcame that challenge, but he had always been unusually bright and energetic. Born to Jewish immigrants who fled Nazi Germany for Long Island in the late 1930s, Mayer decided at an early age to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor. He graduated first in his high school class and went on to be a standout undergraduate at Williams College before moving on to Harvard Medical School and a residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He then took a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), both because it was then the world’s leading center of cancer research and because the job fulfilled military obligations that might otherwise have sent him to Vietnam.
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