Skip to main content

Unfortunately we don't fully support your browser. If you have the option to, please upgrade to a newer version or use Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, or Safari 14 or newer. If you are unable to, and need support, please send us your feedback.

Publish with us

5 tips for scientific survival from the Father of Tamoxifen

September 26, 2022 | 12 min read

By Andre Wolff

5 tips for scientific survival from the Father of Tamoxifen - Quote

Dr Craig Jordan — whose team discovered the role of Tamoxifen in treating breast cancer — gives his best advice for the young life sciences researcher

So you decided you want a career in life sciences research. You’ve talked to your friends, relatives and colleagues, watched countless YouTube videos and read all threads on Reddit. Truth is, you want to feel fulfilled in your career and make a substantial contribution to human health.

We know someone who can help.

Dr V Craig Jordan.

His 50-year research career led to the discovery of the correct application of Tamoxifen — the most used hormonal therapy medication(opens in new tab/window) for the treatment of breast cancer in both women and men. This medication alone is prescribed by oncologists to patients around the world and is responsible for saving millions of lives. We are quite sure you won’t find advice from a more qualified person on social media.

In Tamoxifen Tales: Suggestions for Scientific Survival (Elsevier 2022), Dr V Craig Jordan — or just Craig, as he likes to be called — shares his views into on how to find meaning and purpose in a research career. In the times we live in, wisdom from Craig provides a compass to navigate our way out of the fog. Here are five of the 12 scientific survival suggestions Craig shares in his book, alongside a detailed account of his life and research.

1. Choose your mentor or supervisor wisely.

Dr Jordan’s contribution to saving lives would have likely failed without mentors like Sir James Black(opens in new tab/window), the Nobel Laureate whose commitment to “invest in the young” supported the development and career success of many bright scientists.Throughout his career, Craig benefited from being in an environment where the young are looked at as a promise. Being talent-spotted and advanced from Assistant Professor through Associate Professor to become Professor of Human Oncology and Pharmacology in five years provided him the confidence to tackle increasingly demanding challenges.

In many stages of his career, Craig relied on mentors to provide guidance and perspective. He believes other young researchers deserve the same opportunities, noting that he tries to emulate the people who have provided him with opportunities, and he encourages others to do the same. In his book, he writes:

I recommend that any future successful medical scientist reading this product of my life's work commit to providing opportunities for excellent students that follow, so that the momentum in therapeutics can continue apace. It is people who make discoveries, and those people can change the world of medicine for the better. Everyone is guilty of all the good they did not do.

He also has advice for young scientists in this process — choose your mentors wisely, and familiarize yourself with the people around you. Craig recalls one mentee, Dr Balkees Abderrahman(opens in new tab/window), at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. “She had not planned on working with me,” he said, “but she did her homework of the faculty in Breast Medical Oncology.” Writing in his book, he recalls:

I found myself in my temporary office in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology, waiting for my move down the corridor to my larger office nearer my new Chairman. Balkees was pacing the corridor waiting for the allocated faculty mentor to arrive. Upon passing my office, she exclaimed, ‘You are the Father of Tamoxifen!’ Naturally, we all like this sort of recognition from those we have never met, but there was a lesson here that is worthy of emphasis to the young. By reading the faculty listing for Breast Medical Oncology and her other rotation in leukemia, she was informed, and that knowledge changed her future.

2. Know the literature of your chosen topic: who did what.

In our bite-sized content consumption society, we are trained from a young age to flip from subject to subject in seconds. This won’t take you to a deep knowledge in science. The message here is clear:

Do not become too broad and do not flit from topic to topic because it is fun or interesting at that moment. 

Instead, become one of the few that dives in deeper. Dr Jorden writes:

Become an expert in your small area and learn all the literature written by those who came before. By knowing “who did what,” you already have a database when introduced to the leaders in your broader area. Once you have an expanding publication record in your chosen field, write a refereed review for a strategic professional journal. Surprise the competition, and get your ideas written down.

‘If it isn't written down it never happened.’

3. Get documentation that says what you achieved.

Focus on material evidence of what you did and not what you will do in the future. Professional awards received from colleagues can highlight the value of your contribution to science. In the early stages of your career, this will raise the chances of you being talent-spotted, and in later stages help you keep your lab well-supported and funded. Craig writes:

At my grammar school in Cheshire, where I first learned the harsh realities of competitive academic success or failure, a teacher once told our class, ‘Get as many pieces of paper that say what you did, what you can do and how good you are.’ Invaluable advice to be talent-spotted. It tells the story of what you did and not what you will do in the future. It does, however, provide a greater security and promise for further investment in your laboratory. The more professional awards you receive, these reflect the opinions of your professional colleagues about the value of your professional contribution to medical science.

4. Have a goal and live every moment of your life to achieve your goal.

Reach into higher realms of success and be relentless about knowing everything about the history of your topic. Uncompromised dedication to research allowed Craig and his team to understand past dead ends to make significant advances today. He and his team deciphered the unanticipated results of the Women’s Health Initiative as they discovered estrogen-induced apoptosis in estrogen-deprived breast cancer(opens in new tab/window) by studying drug resistance to long-term tamoxifen therapy.

5. Know an opportunity when you are presented with change.

Opportunities occur rarely, but when they happen, you should jump at them, right? But how do you know if it’s a real one?

Craig did not truly understand this process until an opportunity arose at the University of Wisconsin-Madison(opens in new tab/window). It was decided he would inherit the space, staff, and directorship of the Steroid Receptor Laboratory of a departing senior faculty member. He called his mentor, Dr Bill McGuire(opens in new tab/window) at the University of Texas at San Antonio, to explain the circumstances and why he did not feel equal to the task. As Craig recalled, Bill told him: “You are looking at the task incorrectly: this is an opportunity.”

Although just 38 years old, Craig had already accumulated the needed experience and showed the academic community he had what it takes to face such a big endeavor. When presented with an opportunity, reach out to those who know you best. Their perspectives can help you decide whether it is a good choice for you.

Bonus tip: Take Winston Churchill’s definition of success as a mantra

Craig highlights that without determination, big things just don’t happen. Never stop trying! Take Sir Winston Churchill’s definition of success as a mantra: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Read two chapters from Tamoxifen Tales

These chapters are freely available until May 15, 2024.

Tamoxifen Tales Book Cover

Tamoxifen Tales

V Craig Jordan, CMG, OBE, PhD, DSc, FMedSci

Dr V Craig Jordan(opens in new tab/window) is Professor of Breast Medical Oncology and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Previously, he was Scientific Director and Vice Chairman of Oncology at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center of Georgetown University. Dr Jordan was the first to discover the breast cancer prevention properties of tamoxifen and the scientific principles for adjuvant therapy with antihormones. More recently, his work has branched out into the prevention of multiple diseases in women with the discovery of the drug group, selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERMs). Currently, he plans to develop a new Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for post-menopausal women that prevents breast cancer and does not increase the risk of breast cancer. In 2019 he was appointed Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) by Queen Elizabeth II for services to women’s health.

Dr Jordan is the author of Tamoxifen Tales: Suggestions for Scientific Survival (Elsevier, 2022).


Andre Wolff Head Shot


Andre Wolff

Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences Reference Books Publisher