Ben Soltoff, B.S. 2012

Ecosystem Builder and Entrepreneur in Residence, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship – Cambridge, MA

2012 Major: Biology and Environmental Sciences and Policy; minor in English

How has being a Biology graduate from Duke helped shape you personally and/or professionally?

"I've had a winding career path and have strayed far from my roots in ecosystem science, but the lessons from my Duke biology classes have stuck with me. Do I remember the various muscles, bones, and ligaments that I literally picked apart during Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy? Absolutely not. But I have maintained the ability to understand complex systems and to think through interventions within those systems for the good of life on this planet. At a micro level, my Duke biology major trained to collect and analyze data, which is a useful skill in pretty much any field. For instance, when I started my MBA, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up with my classmates who had far more experience in the private sector, but I soon found that I was ahead of the pack due to my comfort with spreadsheets and an ability to glean insight from quantitative information. The rest was just a matter of learning business vocabulary. At a macro level, my Duke training gave me the ability to understand the intricacies of our fragile biosphere. Since my MBA, I've continued to hang around on the periphery of academia, and I currently support MIT students who are developing entrepreneurial climate solutions. In this role, it's important for me to understand not only the economic viability of a potential solution, but also its impact in mitigating or adapting to the climate crisis. My classes at Duke helped lay the foundation for this critical ability of systems thinking."

What advice would you give students in Duke's Biology programs? 

"Take full advantage of the incredible resources at your disposal. At Duke, you can learn from some of the top experts in many different fields, not only by taking their classes but also by doing research alongside them in their laboratories. Don't take these rare learning opportunities for granted. You'll miss them once you're no longer in school. Also, take a moment to appreciate the bigger picture. It's easy to get distracted thinking about preparing for the MCAT or finding a job after school or what happened at Shooters over the weekend, and those are all relevant concerns in their own time. However, at Duke, you have four years to just learn. As much as possible. And you've made the wise choice to study biology, the science of LIFE ITSELF. Life, in all its strange and beautiful forms, is quite possibly the most fascinating thing in the universe. We don't really know how it started, and for all we know, it exists only on this tiny fragile marble that we call Earth. Once you're armed with the powerful knowledge of how life works, you'll be able to preserve life in a variety different biology-focused careers, such as medicine, agriculture, ecosystem conservation, just to name a few. How amazing is that?!"

Ben Soltoff