By Dr. Ruth Bowness

Interview with Dr. Jacob G. Scott from the Lerner Research Institute Cleveland Clinic and editor of SMB newsletter, about his research as a theoretical oncologist.

Twitter: @CancerConnector

What is your current role and how long have you been there?

My current role is a group leader and staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic. I have been here since August of 2016.


What attracted you to mathematical oncology?

As a clinical oncologist with a background in physics, I found ‘standard’ cancer research to be very unsatisfying – until I found mathematical oncology (through the good luck of meeting Sandy Anderson), I really felt that I didn’t have much to contribute besides as a clinician. Finding a place where I could use my biological intuition and ability to model physical systems then, was extremely gratifying.  I have been heard saying that mathonco saved my life!


What is something exciting that you are currently working on?

Our group is focused now on the concept of evolutionary control. We have previously worked on prediction of cancer and pathogen evolution, but we want to move past it to gain some ability to control the evolution instead – with an application to drug resistance.


What do you foresee as the biggest challenges in mathematical oncology?

Connecting our models to meaningful data so that we can make gains in the clinic. This necessarily means thinking hard about bridging scales, which is a very tough problem.


Have you encountered any surprising results in your research?

I think the most surprising thing is that a system as complicated as cancer is able to be modelled in simple enough ways to make predictions of ANY kind. 


What is the best piece of advice you have received? 

Two pieces of advice meet this wicket…  neither of which have I perfected, but both of which I aspire to: learn to say ‘no’, and have thick skin about rejection. It feels so good to say ‘yes’ when colleagues ask for help, but doing so too much can really distract from your work.  A balance here is key. And, the nature of academia is such that even really good work will be rejected. It is important to remember this, and also that rejection of one’s science doesn’t equate to rejection of the scientist.


What is the best part of your job?

By far and away the best part of the job is getting to work with excited and bright trainees.


What is the worst part of your job?

Paperwork – clinical and otherwise.


Where is the best place you have travelled for work? And why?

I must say I have been very pleased with the opportunities to see the world that academic has offered.  I was in the Navy before I went to graduate school, and the motto is: Join the Navy, see the world. All I saw was the inside of a submarine! Since becoming a mathematical biologist however, I have been all over. SMB 2018 in Sydney was the most fun trip I’ve taken though I think. Great science and totally unfamiliar flora and fauna. Beautiful!


What do you do in your spare time?

I try to spend as much of my downtime as I can with family, I have two little ones (a 7 year old boy and an 11 year old girl), and they are growing up so fast…


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