Last week I gave a job talk to some college students from another university. The students who attended were very clearly motivated to pursue careers in biomedicine, but I realized very clearly during the question and answer portion of my talk that they didn’t need me to really share technical information. They needed reassurance that they were deserving of a scientific career and were good enough to pursue their goals. They wanted me to reassure them that science is a place for them that would be welcoming of their talent even if they had gotten a C in a course, or wanted to have a baby, or even if they were completely perfect in every way.
Completely perfect in a way that I certainly never was.
During my talk, I had told the students that I went into science because I wanted to help people in a way that I could and that has never stopped being my motivation. I just want to make the world better and I think that science can do that. I tried to implore them to stay focused on their personal missions because, at the end of the day, they would only ever find professional solace there.
When the talk was over, I emailed my graduate school mentor. He’s long since retired, but I email him every couple of years to check in and tell him what I’m up to. He has the most brilliant mind of anyone I have ever met and an ability to see things in a quantitative way that I deeply, deeply admire. I told him that I had given this talk, was up for tenure at an R1 institution, have graduate students of my own, and thanked him for investing in me all those years ago. To my surprise, this time he wrote back in a very personal way
You mentioned the career talk you are giving. Something I may not have told you before but you may want to pass on to aspiring graduate students–When you first applied for a graduate student position in my lab, you wrote me about your future research plans in much detail, convincing me of your commitment to your future studies and career, This was a deciding factor in accepting you as a grad student.And you never disappointed me!
I have been impressed time and time again by the maturity and self-awareness I see in my students and those that I meet now that I’m working at the regional level for our professional physics student society. They are discussing issues of impostor syndrome, inclusion, and mental health in a way that I simply had no concept of as an undergrad. They are plagued with insecurities, of course, but they are TALKING about it and that gives me hope.
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