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Stay curious

A few weeks ago, I was hooded! The history and tradition of academic regalia goes way back but essentially, I earned my wizarding robes. Since I earned my PhD, I now have: velour patches on my gown, a "hood" with the Tufts University colors and "PhD blue" velour (you can see it in the front), and I have graduated from a 4-sided mortarboard to an 8-sided tam (the floppy hat).

At this year's Tufts University Hooding Ceremony, I was honored to be the invited student speaker. (In addition to speaking, I also sat on the stage the whole time, which I was not totally prepared for.) While my speech specifically addresses the graduates, I believe the message can be applied to everyone, and so I'd like to share it here.

First of all, congratulations to all the new PhDs here today, their families, their friends, and their mentors! Getting a PhD takes a village and thankfully, we have that village in our loved ones, our mentors, and the graduate student community here at Tufts. I think I speak for all of us when I say THANK YOU.

Getting a PhD requires a village because it is a mental, physical, and emotional challenge that takes years to accomplish. By the time we defend our theses, we all have so much to be proud of; so much and so many to be thankful for. But I know I’m not alone when I say that getting your PhD also takes a lot out of you.

After devoting years of our lives to answering extremely specific questions in painstaking detail, it’s understandable to feel a little “burnt out”. As I was in the throes of writing my dissertation—that long document that many of you probably don’t want to look at again for a long time—this happened to me. I spent so many hours holed up, writing about honey bee nutrition and behavior, that I began to get sick of honey bees. (Which truly pains me to admit because anyone who know me knows I love honey bees!)

As this was happening, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking:

“Will I really be able to finish this?”

“How did I even make it this far?”

And outside of the “village” that supported me all along, the answer I found was curiosity.

As I thought back to the beginning of my graduate journey here at Tufts, I realized it didn’t start with nutritional ecology and ecological immunity in honey bees. It started with a semester-long lab rotation, an open mind, and a healthy dose of curiosity. Curiosity about the natural world. Curiosity about evolution and ecology. Curiosity that blossomed into something more than I could have ever imagined; it opened doors, expanded my horizons, and pushed me through even the most challenging moments.

Think back to the beginning of your dissertation. What were you curious about? How did your curiosity shape your dissertation? How did it drive you to keep going, to uncover new questions? How did it encourage you when that experiment failed or that bit of research hit a dead end? How did it help you make your mark in your field? I’m willing to bet that if you look even further back, back to when you were a child bombarding your parents with questions about almost everything, you’d see a similar theme.

Curiosity drives us from the day we’re born. And it has led us to where we stand today. Don’t EVER let it fade away. Not now. Not 40 years from now. Not even as you get into the nitty gritty comments from Reviewer Three, who clearly does not understand your research and/or did not read your paper carefully.

Because curiosity is what keeps us alive. It keeps us aware of, and connected to, the world around us. It inspires us to pursue answers. It helps us solve problems. And if there’s one thing we’ve all learned these past several years, it’s how to solve problems!

As we enter the world with our PhDs, whatever paths we take, let’s enter it armed with the same curiosity that brought us this far. It hasn’t failed us yet! And we’re just getting started.

Photos: Tufts GSAS

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