Research at Hendrix

Don Hertzog '87

Hertzog, Don

Chemistry major

Director and Site Head, Molecular Discovery Research Department of Medicinal Chemistry, GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

Highlight quote

"The ability to conduct meaningful research through Hendrix, both on campus and at summer internships elsewhere, was invaluable."

Current projects

I lead a medicinal chemistry team that is dedicated to discovering new starting points for drug discovery in HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and several other diseases.

Undergraduate Research

My Hendrix experience included two summers of undergraduate research at places other than Hendrix. After my sophomore year, my friend Jeff Porter and I worked at Duke University learning how to do synthetic organic chemistry. After my junior year, I worked in the lab of Professor Thomas McKenzie at the University of Alabama on a project aimed at the total synthesis of the natural product loline. Finally, I worked with Dr. Goodwin at Hendrix during my senior year on the synthesis of the natural product maytansine. Dr. Goodwin was instrumental in securing the internships at both Duke and Alabama.

How Hendrix prepared me for success

The level of instruction that I obtained at Hendrix was outstanding. All of my science courses were taught by professors who were incredibly knowledgeable and respected in their fields. It's worth noting that the high quality instruction included the laboratory component of the science courses, which looking back was at least as important as the classroom material. I contrast that to what one would experience at virtually any major university where the courses and labs are typically taught by graduate students or an adjunct professor.

The ability to conduct meaningful research through Hendrix, both on campus and at summer internships elsewhere, was invaluable. That experience provided me the knowledge to make an informed decision about whether or not to go to graduate school and where to go. And once there, it gave me a leg up because I knew how to conduct research and what graduate school was all about.

Future plans

I plan to continue to try and discover new drugs. It is a brutal job where one has to celebrate winning little battles because failure is so common. I'm sometimes envious of all of my friends from Hendrix who are now MDs. Every day they get to help a patient. In research, it would be very easy to spend one's entire career doing first-rate research and never having a drug come out of it. But if that research does lead to a drug, the number of patients whose quality of life could be positively impacted could be many times more than what any practicing physician could ever hope for. Sometimes I think the mindset for doing drug discovery must be a little like that of the explorers looking for the New World – you know the odds are against you, but what if …?

My advice

Figure out what it is you really love to do and do that. Maybe it's science, music, literature, whatever. Then pursue it passionately. When I look at the happiest, most successful people from my class they all followed this path, perhaps unknowingly. And amongst the things pursued were molecular biology, basketball, and music. Whatever it is, go for it! How bad can a bad day at the office really be if you're doing what you love?