Penn State

Andras Hajnal - associate professor of neural and behavioral sciences, Penn State College of Medicine, The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

Book Title: From Dream to Discovery; on being a Scientist

Author: Hans Selye

Book Description:

This charismatic autobiography was written by Hans Selye, the famous Canadian physiologist endocrinologist, who was born in 1907 in Vienna. Selye was perhaps the last pioneer of the golden age of physiology that included giants like Claude Bernard and Walter Cannon. Selye is most known for his works on the general adaptation syndrome (GAS), specifying glucocorticoids action, and for coining the term stress. However, his contribution to science exceeds these actual discoveries. Selye proposed a general model of adaptation that can be applied to any level of living organism: from cells to complex neural networks. A direct link between his ideas and contemporary homeostasis theories is evident. Working on the pathology of eating and body weight regulation as a systems neuroscientist, the concepts of Selye is a heuristic for my research.

Selye’s book had a great impact not only on my career decision but also in formulating the way I think about the living organisms, the function of the body, and nature in general. More practically, this book has followed me through my life and brought upon miraculous turns.

I was first introduced to this book not by my beloved biology teacher of my gymnasium class (European equivalent of grammar school) back in Hungary, but a girl from the senior class whom I admired for her intellectual charm and wit. At that time, I had just entered my Junior year and aspired for a career in physics/astronomy and philosophy fields. After reading Selye’s book, I decided to pursue a career as a physiologist and applied to medical school in Pecs, Hungary.

I was a second year medical student when I reread this book, but by then I felt more of an insider to science and better positioned to fulfill my desire for making medical discoveries. At the year-end colloquium, a tough one-on-one oral exam with the chair of the Physiology Department, my examiner Professor Endre Grastyan, former Rockefeller Fellow, and internationally recognized for his behavioral science research, challenged me on Claude Bernard's theory of homeostasis. Luckily enough, I managed to shift the discussion to Hans Selye’s work. This segue earned me a great grade and an offer for a hard-to-get teaching assistant position in medical physiology. a few years later, after my graduation, I got an academic position there, and was sent for a summer fellowship to Claude Bernard’s former lab at the College de France in Paris. After six more years working towards my Ph.D. in neuroscience with a thesis related to homeostatic/motivational mechanism. I have arrived at the Penn State College of Medicine with Selye’s book in my suitcase.

Now, I am placing a copy of this masterpiece onto our library’s shelf, deeply moved by the opportunity to share this treasure with students of the new generation, who dream of becoming scientists.

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