Jonas Salk: As a child, I had it in mind to study law. For some reason, very early on in my life, I was very much aware of what I call the injustices of life.
At some point, I recall having the ambition to study law, to be elected to Congress, and to try to make just laws, but I didn’t pursue the study of law, for a curious reason. My mother didn’t think I’d make a very good lawyer. And I believe that her reasons were that I couldn’t really win an argument with her. At least, this is my way of expressing it.
This change took place between leaving high school and entering college. Because I think I entered college enrolled as a pre-law student, but I changed to pre-med after I went through some soul searching as to what I would do other than to study law. Her preference was that I should be a teacher, but that didn’t appeal to me.
And when I decided to study medicine I was sufficiently interested in the science and I began to think about the scientific aspect of medicine. My intention was to go to medical school, and then become a medical scientist. I did not intend to practice medicine, although in medical school, and in my internship, I did all the things that were necessary to qualify me in that regard. I had opportunities along the way to drop the idea of medicine and go into science.
At one point at the end of my first year of medical school, I received an opportunity to spend a year in research and teaching in biochemistry, which I did. And at the end of that year, I was told that I could, if I wished, switch and get a Ph.D. in biochemistry, but my preference was to stay with medicine. And I believe that this is all linked to my original ambition or desire, which was to be of some help to humankind, so to speak, in a larger sense than just on a one-to-one basis.
Just as I intended to study law, to make just laws, so I found myself interested now in the laws of nature, as distinct from the laws that people make, so to speak.