Illustrated portrait of Emily Landon

(Illustration by Lyndon Hayes)

Emily Landon

Questions for the infectious disease specialist and public health advocate.

What surprising job have you had in the past?

When I was in high school and college, I used to sing at wedding ceremonies. Iʼm a soprano and would usually perform as a soloist.

What would you want to be doing if not your current profession?

Iʼd probably be doing something in music: either working as a music teacher or singing classical music. I actually went to college as a music major.

What do you hate that everyone else loves?

I hate beer. To me, all beer tastes like soap. But that does not mean I donʼt like wine!

What do you love that everyone else hates?

Organic chemistry. I really enjoyed that class when everyone else absolutely hated it.

What was the last book you finished?

I love British crime fiction. The last book I finished was Stolen Ones by Angela Marsons.

What was the last book you recommended to a friend?

Kristin Lavransdatter, which is a trilogy by Sigrid Undset, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in the 1920s. Itʼs an amazing story about a Norwegian woman in the 1300s, and it was one of the best books Iʼve ever read. I loved, loved, loved it.

What book—or other work or idea—do you relish teaching?

I work with doctors in training, so my favorite thing to teach about is decision fatigue and how to avoid it. No one knows when theyʼre getting decision fatigued, but medical training can push you toward that point every day. Unfortunately, decision fatigue plays a big role in errors and bad decision-making—especially in medicine.

What book changed your life?

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

Whatʼs your least useful talent?

All my talents are useful! I sew, I make soap and candles, I love to garden. I joke that I donʼt have time for hobbies that are useless!

Tell us the best piece of advice youʼve received—or the worst.

Best advice is that your time is your most valuable asset.

The worst advice is the conglomeration of advice people give to women but never seem to give to men. You know: that I should be nicer, or smile more, or be more friendly, or wear lipstick.

What advice would you give to a brand-new Maroon?

Donʼt let the idea that not very many people succeed in a field ever stop you from doing what you want to do. Somebodyʼs going to succeed, and it might as well be you. So do what you love, and just be ready to work really, really hard at it.

Who was your best teacher, and why?

You canʼt be successful without having important teachers and mentors throughout your life, so itʼs hard to put it all on one person. But if I had to pick, Iʼd say it was my elementary school music teacher. Weʼd practice songs and heʼd yell for us to stop and do it again. And while that was so frustrating as a child, he did it in a way that made you feel like you could do it better. And when you did do it better, you realized it was worth it to do it again.

What UChicago moment will you never forget?

I was the resident in the medical intensive care unit one night when a lot of patients got really sick around the same time. The faculty and the fellow had gone home for the night when this very senior faculty member called to see how I was doing (which, by the way, was not well). All I could do was say, “All hellʼs breaking loose,” and then I literally hung up on him. I still canʼt believe I did that. But rather than tell me I was rude, they sent me help that night and again the next morning. It was a great lesson that when you need help, help will be there for you. You donʼt have to worry about hierarchy because weʼre all there to care for our patients.