Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 13 - Richard Fineman - ENHANCING HUMAN POTENTIAL - Part 1 of 3

She gave this talk on poverty and how people are-- not that this is the solution to getting rid of poverty around the world, but that when people are constantly stressed about financial need and stuff like that, that there actually are certain spikes in stress hormones that actually decrease life, like longevity of life, which is interesting.

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“She gave this talk on poverty and how people are-- not that this is the solution to getting rid of poverty around the world, but that when people are constantly stressed about financial need and stuff like that, that there actually are certain spikes in stress hormones that actually decrease life, like longevity of life, which is interesting. So, not only does not having access to certain financial resources decrease your life because you don't have access to food and health care, also the stress could be decreasing your life too.” This episode of The Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri, skincare for athletes. Whether you're in the gym, on the mats, on the road, or in the pool, we protect your skin so you're more comfortable in your own body. To learn more, go to JESSE: Today on the Smart Athlete Podcast, my guest was a Division One swimmer at Columbia. He had a fellowship at NASA, which is a much longer title that I can't quite remember. I'm sure he'll tell us about here in a minute. Currently, he's racing triathlon with Wattie Ink, and he is a certified yoga instructor. Not only that, but he just finished his PhD in Medical Engineering at MIT. Welcome to the show, Richard Fineman. RICHARD: Hey, yeah, thanks for having me, man. JESSE: Did I get all that in? RICHARD: Yeah, that was pretty good. I mean, I don't remember exactly-- Did I send you my CV because I've been sending that around a lot because I'm looking for postdocs and jobs and stuff. And sorry, it's a little long. When you're on the job hunt, you just gotta woo people. So, yeah, that was good. That was good. JESSE: No, that's okay. Like I said, we were talking before we got started recording, I just I want to give you credit where credit's due. And typically, I find somebody like you who's going to be super competitive-- I mean, anybody who's on this show is a smart athlete. There's usually a lot going on there, even though it may not necessarily be apparent on the surface. RICHARD: Yeah. I don't know. I mean, I find that even here at MIT, anyone who was like pretty athletic was here, I don't know, they do a lot of things. I think, the brains and the flow of the system kind of go hand in hand. And I think that the thing that links them together is just like a really good work ethic. I find that everyone who I've trained with has a pretty good work ethic that translated to their career. Grad school isn't for everyone because it can suck. So, yeah. I know you had Greg on the podcast, so he was kind of my-- when he moved out here to Boston, he had just finished his PhD and I was in the middle of mine. And so I would frequently bitch to him about how much it sucked, and then he would provide me the light at the end of the tunnel. And now that I’m done, he's almost revealing to me how much he held back about how bad grad school was just to give me a little bit of confidence and optimism. JESSE: Yeah. Greg even told me last week, he said, once you have-- the episodes on out yet, so you haven't seen it. He said what Richard doesn't know yet is that it's all downhill from here. You think it's going to get easier and it doesn't. RICHARD: Oh, great. Yeah. Oh, that's good. Thanks, Greg. Jerk. JESSE: I think he's just trying to give you just enough perspective to keep you motivated, but not so much just to like, crush your soul. RICHARD: Well, yeah, I mean, I think maybe what he’s getting at is other things in life come up. I mean, he's about to have a kid. And we're both kind of more on the sensitive side, and we can both be kind of anxious people. So, we kind of relate in that regard. So, I'm sure the fact that he's having a kid, he's pretty anxious about that so I get it. JESSE: Yeah, it’s a big change. RICHARD: Oh, yeah. Yeah. JESSE: So, you just graduated, it should be a time of like elation, but with that kind of anxiety of trying to find a job; how's the job search going? Are you feel like you're getting some solid leads in? RICHARD: Yeah. I have a few offers and the hardest thing has been kind of leveraging what I want to do. You get your PhD and you're surrounded by these brilliant professors, and a lot of them are kind of trying to pull you to stick with academics, but there's a larger and larger growing pool of PhDs who actually just go into the workforce and go into industry. So, I've kind of constantly been trying to figure out, do I want to do academia? Do I want to pursue the faculty route or do I want to go into industry? And for a while, I've always thought that like, industries is kind of like selling out. And I was pretty set on being a professor. And as soon as I ?? 5:51>, a couple of things kind of happened that led me to question that. I kind of had a little bit of identity crisis. So, my boss here at MIT, she's a brilliant professor, one of the best mentors I've ever had, and very liked in the department. But because of some dumb politics she ended up not getting tenure and so this past semester, she announced that she's leaving MIT, despite the fact that so many people, like other professors just adore her, and she's so great for the department. And so to me, that was like okay, someone who is really striking the balance between being a great professor and mentoring her students and teacher, but also putting out great researches. Our group produces a lot of papers, she serves on various panels for the NSF or the National Robotics Institute is a very-- JESSE: NSF is National Science Foundation? RICHARD: Yeah. Yeah, National Science Foundation. And she's very, very successful in academic, and still that's like, I mean it's MIT, but just because of some weird politics, the department said not to put her up for tenure, and a lot of people have been upset. So, to see someone who is just really killing it in all aspects of life to still not have that job security, and to be thrown under the bus like that; I don't really know if I want to live with that kind of stress. And granted, she applied to a few jobs this semester, and now has a full tenured position at the University of Michigan. We’re all really happy for her. But the fact that for the first seven to 10 years of your career, you are pretty much living at the will of your department, and who's head-- The person who hire you can change, the department head can change, who might no longer like us much and like your work, so it sucks. And I've always been drawn to academics because there's like a very pure like scientific goal. You get to mentor students and you get to learn a lot. And so I really started to question that when I saw my professor kind of go through this. And so I started to interview for various industry jobs. And so, now I'm very excited by a lot of these industry opportunities. So, I have offers or I'm kind of leveraging, I would like an offer for a postdoc, but then I'm also kind of waiting on this one industry offer that I'm really excited about. So, it's hard to kind of figure it out. I haven't put that much effort into actually applying, it's been more, I guess, coming back to your original question, it's been harder, the hardest part has been really trying to figure out what I want to do and what is going to end up making me the most. So, that's kind of where I'm at right now. And actually, this week will be a big kinda ?? 9:10> a big point where I'm going to figure that out because I should hear back from a couple of places. And then I'll really have to make a decision. JESSE: Yeah. Your dilemma kind of made me think about, I had a conversation with pro triathlete Mike Meehan and he's an engineer, working on his PhD. And he kept coming back to this idea about how he wants to make an impact in his community. And now that's an idea that I think I deal with a lot in terms of once you get to the point where you have enough money to cover whatever lifestyle you want and I think about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and you have all that stuff covered. And you're getting to the point where you're like working on self actualization, which I think most of us in the first world can probably do. To me, it's a matter of that happiness comes from, where do you see yourself making the most impact, whether it's academic, that pure science research, or whether you think you can actually take that into industry and make an impact in terms of, say you're at-- I’ll just NASA, just because an easy example, since you’ve already been there like if your work can make such a positive impact in that environment So, maybe that's food for thought, I guess. RICHARD: No, yeah. I mean, that's also something that I've been thinking about a lot. I mean, I don't want my research, just to kind of sit in a pile of academic journals that only myself and my students read, and maybe a few of my colleagues know. I definitely want to make an impact. And part of the reason I went into medical engineering was because that whole idea of medicine and health care and being able to help people. And being an engineer, it's kind of hard because there are definitely some areas of engineering that are very cutting edge and applied in the long run could change the world, right. But then they're kind of my area of research is kind of more like middle ground. I do experimental biomechanics and I work a lot with inertial measurement. So, inertial measurement those are this motion sensors that are like in your phone, or in your Garmin watch, or in your activity tracker. So, just really trying to extract more detailed information about motion from the sensors, and then trying to apply it for the clinic, and trying to maybe monitor people at home better. So, we focus a lot on rehab and stuff like that. And the work is really cool, but the fact of the matter is that there are companies both startups, but also bigger companies that are exploring this work as well. So, some of these interviews I've had, are with industry, they want me to continue my work, but to actually apply it on a consumer grade device that will eventually be shipped as a product. So, when I think about it, it's like okay, I'll still be doing similar research, I'll still be in a very scientific group because it's like a research role, not so much like-- Like the engineering roles at these companies, they're trying to build something to sell. But the scientists roles are kind of more like R&D. So, they do the research, there's like user studies behind it and it's been validated before it's shipped. So, the scientists are more on like, 2-3-4 year-- The stuff they're working on won’t ship for another 2-3-4 years. Engineers might be on more of a like, nine to 12 month cycle, because Garmin comes out with a new for runner every every year. So, those engineers have to be on top of that every year. So, anyway, if I'm doing the same work, but now it's actually going to be shipped in a device, eventually, that might actually benefit a consumer and make its way into the clinic, then I can make a much bigger impact. So, it's hard and I’ve really kind of tried to only explore industry jobs where I feel like that impact would be most, where I can make the most impact. JESSE: Yeah, it's tough to relate to this experience without you having had it yet. But I know for me, as an entrepreneur, my goal is to take clearly defined problems and solve them. And I don't have the resources to have an engineering team or make anything as complicated as like, I'll say, a Garmin watch. But to me, there's like this satisfaction, almost like a thrill. I don't need to go like thrill seeking because when I get this positive feedback, then whatever I've created or brought out, like somebody says, you know, I tried all these things, and then I finally tried yours and it worked better than anything I could ever find before. Like that's so satisfying, that's the whole point of doing all this rigmarole was to actually like, even if it's just one person, like making this small impact, to me, that's the highlight of what I do, I guess. RICHARD: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there's definitely been thrills during my PhD where I published a paper, but I guess I haven't had exactly had that thrill of where someone has actually used something that I've made and benefited from it. And sometimes I feel like, it's selfish to want that, like I want my work to make a difference. But I'm only one person who can't solve the world's problems. But even if you can make like a tiny impact, that would be pretty cool. JESSE: I think there's something to be said about-- One of my psychology professors had an argument that altruism isn't real. You can't be purely altruistic. You could have motivations to help other people, but ultimately, there's some kind of benefit you get from helping other people like feeling good about having done it. So, I kind of like in some ways, I just don't worry about it. I think it's a good thing if you're motivated to help other people, even if it is selfish to want to do it, you're still making a positive impact. RICHARD: Yeah, yeah, I've actually talked about that with people too and with my dad a lot. My dad's a physician and so he definitely tries to practice being humble and altruistic and very motivated by helping others. But it's hard to deny the fact that he definitely gets like a personal satisfaction out of helping others too, which is inherently not altruistic. So, yeah, I definitely agree with that. JESSE: Yeah. I mean, it's a big balancing act, really. And then, as we go down the rabbit hole, then you're like, you go into like compensation and what is money and all that, that whole thing. RICHARD: Does money buy happiness, blah, blah, blah, which it doesn't. But actually, it's interesting, I had a therapeutics class last semester and someone actually came in, she was the Chief Medical Officer at MGH, Massachusetts General Hospital. I guess I just gave away who it was, because I said that, but anyway, she gave this talk on poverty and how people are-- not that this is the solution to getting rid of poverty around the world, but that when people are constantly stressed about financial need and stuff like that, that there actually are certain spikes in stress hormones that actually decrease life, like longevity of life, which is interesting. So, not only does not having access to certain financial resources decrease your life because you don't have access to food and health care, also the stress could be decreasing your life too. So, it's interesting. Go to Part 2 Go to Part 3

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