I spent some time trying to think of the best message to convey to the attendees of the McNair Scholars Banquet as they progress to the next stage of their careers. I knew that I wanted to impart wisdom to them for not only their professional journeys, but also their personal journeys. As mentors or parents, we spend much time preparing our students or our children for professional success, but we fail to teach them about personal success. We focus on preparing them for what they want to be, not who they want to be. I am saddened when I see successful people who only identify themselves by what they do. The goal of the keynote address was to be motivational, however I also wanted to be honest with both the students and their parents about some of the ingredients for professional and personal success. We often tell students or our children that they can be anything that they want to be, and that simply is not true. When I was a kid I wanted to be the next Whitney Houston and no one could tell me differently. I would sing through the house with all of the passion in the world until my family told me, "Tia, you can't sing, so shut up!" I had the passion, but no matter how hard I tried, I did not have the talent to be a singer, and certainly not the next Whitney Houston. Instead of telling our trainees and our children that they can be anything they want to be, we should tell them to pursue careers that they are passionate about, good at, and feel great doing. The main point that I wanted to express to them was that in order to be successful in your professional life, you must be both passionate and talented. I also told them that passion is internal Gatorade for the soul. Passion pushes you to keep working on a task even when your body is tired! Passion can trump talent, especially when talent won’t work.
Delivering this keynote address was a good break from the scientific talks that I normally give. In the hustle and bustle of academia, we are often so focused on the destination that we lose sight of why we fell in love with science in the first place. I enjoyed sharing my love of science from a big picture perspective devoid of significance symbols and bar graphs. In the short time that I have become a mentor, my love of science has quickly transformed into the business of science. The business of science includes publishing high impact papers, securing funding and tenure, and establishing research networks. The business of science includes the obligatory benchmarks that signify professional success and garner admiration and respect from your peers. A notable religious figure, Bishop T.D. Jakes said something that was extremely powerful to me. He stated, “It is not the destination that solidifies you, it is the things you learn along the way that solidify you. “You will never be effective if you are in love with the destination.” For many of us in academia, the destination is tenure, it is the R01, and it is the high impact paper and so on and so forth. Those things can bring you notoriety and acceptance in your field and create professional success, but they don’t necessarily guarantee personal success. We have to teach the next generation the difference between professional and personal success. While these two things may be tightly linked in many ways, there should be some divide between the two. Now don’t get me wrong, I am working hard to achieve professional success, but I don’t want to forget to enjoy my journey. My journey includes a mixture of professional and personal benchmarks
Giving frank professional and personal advice to the next generation helps me to enjoy my scientific and personal journey!