The Power of Humbleness: Learning to Listen to Yourself and Others,

Anne Sacks recounts Dr. Mohamed Noor’s journey in academia, emphasizing the importance of passion in one’s career, humility, and active listening, which the author, an aspiring physician, aims to apply in their studies, research, and future medical practice

Dr. Mohamed Noor sits back in his chair, talking to us as if we were life-long friends rather than audience members listening to a guest speaker. As he speaks to us about his journey as a college student at William & Mary, a PhD student at the University of Chicago, and finally a Professor and Chair of the Biology Department at Duke University, his humble approach to the conversation is reminiscent of his humble approach to his own career. 

Dr. Mohamed Noor recounts on how it was passion that drove him to pursue a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution despite the discouragement he received from his first academic advisor, and it is passion, he emphasizes, that will help us find fulfillment and happiness in each and everything we do, whether it be designing new robots as an engineer or listening to patients as a physician. 

“…I have the power to continue shaping ‘what I want to be when I grow up.’ ”

Huang Fellows tackle a ropes course together

As an aspiring physician, I’ve realized that despite the constant bustle that I often find myself in within the Duke bubble, it is always important to remember what continues to drive me in both my academics, my research, and my future career. I have to be humble, which means being honest with myself about why I pursue the endeavors I do. While I may be absorbed in understanding the molecular mechanisms behind a certain lab technique within my research, I must remind myself that it is not only understanding the molecular mechanisms that are important, but reflecting on the broader picture improving current treatments within cancer immunology. Most importantly, I must always pause and reflect on whether I continue to find fulfillment through my academics and my research, which for me, comes from knowing that the knowledge I gain can one day be used to help improve quality of life for those who are sick.  

It is Dr. Mohammed Noor’s humbleness that enables him to truly listen to others, not in an effort to respond back to them, but in an effort to see life from their perspective. Commenting on his time teaching at Louisiana State University, Dr. Noor recalled how he invited a guest speaker who opposed the theory of evolution to explain his beliefs. Rather than rebuke the guest speaker, Dr. Noor emphasized that he took time to listen. Dr. Noor’s eagerness to listen has carried him far beyond the scope of a classroom, where within previous appointments such as Interim Dean of Trinity College, he listens to multidisciplinary perspectives across academic and administrative departments, devoting time to listen to the students he mentors and the individuals he works alongside with in his lab. It is this willingness to listen and this humbleness that allows people to trust him, knowing that he isn’t reaching for another title, but for the opportunity to improve the spaces around him. 

I’ve personally come to realize that no matter how engrossed I become in my work, I must never forget to listen to others. When interacting with patients, I will remember that it is not only about comprehending their symptoms, but about communicating with them about their needs and hearing their story. When collaborating with my peers in the lab, I will not only share my approaches to research, but observe their techniques and methods in order to incorporate new ideas into my own. I’ve learned that while it is often crucial to stand and speak up for your beliefs, it is equally fundamental to know when to sit down and learn from others. 

Through Dr. Noor, I discovered that life is not one straight line, and there is never a time when you truly stop growing up. Dr. Noor found his passion for genetics spontaneously, and he continues to take on new endeavors, from collaborating with CBS’ Star Trek to researching why people have maladaptive alleles that lead to human disease. Taking his advice, I will not be afraid to continue finding new ways to combine my intellectual curiosities with my desire to help patients, all the while listening to myself and others, because I have the power to continue shaping “what I want to be when I grow up.”

Anne Sacks, Huang Fellow ’26

wadekar_adwayAnne is a first-year student from the Washington D.C. area pursuing a major in chemistry and a minor in biology on the pre-med track.