Questions and Answers with Corey Duke '13

Corey Duke, Photography by Dustin Massey, courtesy of UAB Heersink School of Medicine

Corey Duke; Photography by Dustin Massey, courtesy of UAB Heersink School of Medicine

Your home: Boston, Massachusetts

Your hometown: Tecumseh, Oklahoma is where I usually say. I grew up in small towns, and I moved a lot. I moved to Fairhope, Alabama, and graduated from Fairhope High School.

Tell us about your family. I have a small family — I have my mom, my younger brother and a cat. Those are the key people in my life.

What is your profession? I am a resident physician in pediatric neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Why are you interested in science and medicine? I really like that it’s all about helping people. Dr. Megan Sherod ( a former assistant professor of psychology at UM) talked me into working an internship with a psychiatrist, and I saw the ability that medicine had to have transformative impacts on people’s lives. It has the ability to affect a lot of change. It’s also about hope. We’ve got all these kids that have rare diseases. There’s a specific one called spinal muscular atrophy , and it would basically mean the end of life for kids by the age of five. Eventually, their muscles would stop working and they would stop being able to breathe and they would die. They have a broken gene, but now we can fix the gene or replace the broken one, and all of a sudden, these kids are walking around playing on playgrounds and it’s amazing. I remember seeing that data presented for the first time, and everyone was literally crying in this huge auditorium. That’s what excites me — the potential to change the game for a lot of people.

How did Montevallo affect your career path? I had very good mentors at UM. At the time I was an English major, and I took a psychopathology class. That helped me figure out that I liked science. I went to Dr. Sherod  and told her I didn’t know which path to take. She encouraged me and helped walk me through things and eventually, I figured out that this was the right path. I started taking biology classes, realized I liked it and decided to stay at Montevallo for an extra two years to get all the classes done. Dr. Scott Peterson, who was the department chair of biology at the time, encouraged me to take those years on when I was on the fence about it. Dr. Cynthia Tidwell, professor of chemistry, just innately believed in me and helped me believe I could be a doctor.

Were you involved in anything on campus? I helped found the Psychology Club and the Ballroom Dance Club. I also helped start the Pre-Health Professionals Society for students going into medicine, dentistry and other health professions. No one in my family did medicine or knew anything about it, so it was a lot to figure out. That club was meant to help kids like me figure it out.

What makes Montevallo special to you? There was no main culture, at least when I was there. And since there was no main culture, there was no subculture of rebellion against the main culture, and it just meant that everyone got to explore and figure out who they really were and what they really wanted. You don’t have to fit in. You just fit in with who you want to be.

What are your hobbies? I play music (guitar and mandolin). I did that quite a bit with friends at Montevallo. I work on old motorcycles, play board games and go hiking. I am very curious, and I get obsessed with random things. I really love learning, so it just leads me to look into weird things. I learned everything about shoes not that long ago. I was really digging into the history of sneakers.

Do you have any advice for current students? Try and find the things that make you upset and think about how you can fix them. Once you get upset, you can’t stop there, because otherwise, you just stay upset. You have to think “all right, I’m going to fix that.” And that’s where your passion comes from. Also, be curious. If you’re able to stay curious as you get older and more jaded [laughs], you can come up with some kind of insight that’s unique to your background and who you are as a person.

What is your secret for success? I don’t feel like I’m truly successful yet. So much of it is chance and mentorship and things like that. You really need people around you believing in you enough for you to believe in yourself a little bit. So many people need more of that, especially in the hard moments when you fail and fail and fail. I definitely failed a lot — tests and messed up experiments — and my family helped me see how small those failures were in the grand scheme of things. It all works out if you just keep going after you fail. That’s the hard part, but it works out.