Alumnus paved M.D., Ph.D. path

UNMC alum Colin Weekes, M.D., Ph.D., who delivered the keynote address on Dec. 12 at the UNMC Honors Convocation for Graduate Studies, was a trailblazer. He was on the M.D.-Ph.D. Scholars track before there officially was one.

Click here for a photo album from winter convocation.

“The M.D.-Ph.D. program I think formally started a year after I started to do this,” Dr. Weekes said.

This was in the 1990s, when, after his first year of medical school, Dr. Weekes took a detour, throwing himself into research in the lab of his now-longtime mentor, Graham Sharp, Ph.D.

Dr. Sharp’s passion and work ethic were infectious, Dr. Weekes said.
When he returned to medical school, those lessons served him well.

“It taught me how to organize thoughts,” Dr. Weekes said. “And then when I went back to medical school it was relatively easy for me to apply that thought process into medicine.”

Dr. Weekes earned his doctoral degree from UNMC in 1998 and his medical degree in 2000.

Dr. Weekes is now on the faculty at Harvard Medical School in Boston as an associate professor of medicine in the division of hematology/oncology. He also serves as director for medical oncology research for pancreatic cancer in the Tucker Gosnell Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

In his address, Dr. Weekes, who is from Alliance, Neb., looked back on his time at UNMC as a student and told the graduates:

“If I was to do it all over again . . . I would not try (so hard) to be perfect. I would try to be excellent. The difference between those two things is, perfect does not allow for failure. Excellence does.

“You learn when you fail,” Dr. Weekes said.

“Dr. Weekes delivered a compelling speech to our graduate students,” said Dele Davies, M.D., UNMC’s dean for graduate studies and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Having earned two graduate degrees at UNMC, he’s a perfect example of how a graduate degree at UNMC can open the door to success. He has had a remarkable career, and we are honored to call him one of our alums.”

Dr. Weekes’ primary focus is on clinical and translational research in patients with pancreatic cancer. The goal of his research group is to incorporate biologic principles into the treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer. He works with basic scientists to integrate targeted therapies and biomarkers of disease response into clinical trial development.