Choose the topics of most interest to you to follow under "My Headlines".
Words for Graduate and Professional Students: Hey, You Are Awesome
Editor's Note: Mohamed Noor is Earl D. McLean Professor and associate chair of biology. The following address was delivered at the convocation of new graduate and professional students Wednesday in Duke Chapel.
Durham, NC - Welcome to Duke University, and congratulations on your admission here! Reflecting back on your history, many of you were among the most successful in high school, giving you the opportunity to be in elite company in college. You were again among the most successful in college, affording you the opportunity now to pursue a prestigious graduate or professional degree here at one of the world's premier universities. You've repeatedly proven yourself to be among the best of the best of the best. In short, you're awesome!
My entire speech to you today can be summarized with two words of instruction -- stay awesome! As I've said, you already are awesome, so I'm not asking you to do anything that is beyond your ability. But you should be aware of opportunities to come and challenges you'll face.
First, although it's clear that your career prospects will be greater for getting a post-college degree (and especially one from here at Duke), many people in the general public and in politics have argued recently that there's little value in higher education. Don't believe me? Try typing "university is" into Google and seeing the autocompletes -- the first 4 are: "not for everyone", "useless", "overrated", and "pointless." Try it yourself! Critics point to successful entrepreneurs who never had a college or post-bachelor's degree. Well, let's look at the facts-- the numbers I'm about to give you are based on the 2011 statistics from the US Department of Labor. The US unemployment rate for those with just a high school degree is 9.4%. For those with a 4-year college degree, it's 4.9%. For those with a master's degree, it's 3.6%. And for those with a graduate or professional degree, it's only 2.5%. Not only is unemployment much lower, but average weekly earnings are 50% higher for people with graduate or professional degrees than those with a bachelor's degree only. And having that graduate or professional degree from Duke in particular will open even more doors for you.
So, these numbers suggest you will be successful, but what do they have to do with your awesomeness? What I want to suggest is that you USE your training so as to make the world better, not just after finishing your degree, but also NOW. Duke's strategic plan advocates "knowledge in the service of society." The training you have and shall continue to develop here gives you success and power. And to quote Uncle Ben from the old Tobey Maguire Spiderman movies (this quote was sadly deleted in the newest Spiderman movie), "With great power, comes great responsibility." Even while you're a student here at Duke, find ways to share the fruits of your efforts with the world at large. For example, talk to students at a local middle school or high school about your specialty topic, and also tell the students what you've done so far and plan to do in the future. You are role models for a generation that will follow in your footsteps. Volunteer some of your free time to help others, both in your area of interest and outside. And remember, your education likely received some support from the public's tax dollars. In return, show the world that education benefitted you, that you appreciate what you've accomplished, AND also that your accomplishment makes the world a better place. In short, show the world your awesomeness, even now.
Second, echoing what President Brodhead said in his speech, seek broader understanding, and take advantage of the broader Duke University outside your program. A big part of why you are here is to become a greater "expert" in a subfield. However, most of you will never have an opportunity like the one in front of you now to integrate knowledge and insights from different fields. Duke prides itself in transcending traditional barriers between disciplines, and as a result, we've developed numerous offices and centers to promote interdisciplinary research and teaching. Just to name a few examples, Duke hosts very successful institutes in the areas of "Brain Sciences", ethics, genomics, and global health. We also host far-reaching interdisciplinary institutes in the humanities and social sciences. Each of your programs recognize this -- the Fuqua business school emphasizes understanding disciplines outside but related to business, the School of Divinity has made efforts to engage students in understanding issues of health care, and the Medical School has capstone classes in issues ranging from ethics to law. That integration is awesome!
But even beyond these formal ventures, Duke is a rich community where you can continue to show the drive, initiative, and leadership in learning that led to this day. Engage yourself in the broader Duke going beyond the requirements of your program. Influential and sometimes controversial world leaders and commentators come to Duke all the time -- go hear what they have to say, and evaluate it for yourself. So far this year (just 2012), we had speakers on campus ranging from former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to biologist Richard Dawkins to journalist Fareed Zakaria. Heck, we even had Martin Kratt, creator of the PBS kids show Zoboomafoo! -- the one with the crazy lemur. That lemur, by the way, was housed in the Duke Lemur Center nearby -- you MUST make time to go see that facility. That list of people doesn't include some of the amazing people who work here at Duke, like Dan Arielly, author of best-selling books on behavioral economics, or Robert Calderbank, who's made important contributions to wireless device design and quantum computing. There are many amazing people doing great things in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and business at Duke, including all of you. I encourage you to hear what others have to say AND to contribute the insights you have developed and continue to develop to the broader Duke community. Trust me -- many of us are interested in the awesome things you'll do!
Finally, although everything I've said has been in the context of doing your best while here, both in terms of reaching out and leveraging opportunities, I implore you to take care of yourself and your physical and emotional well-being as well. Yes, I know -- graduate and professional schools are often synonymized with poverty and stress. TV shows like The Simpsons enjoy poking fun at how abused graduate students often are. We laugh hesitantly because we know there's an element of truth to their cartoons. I won't lie and tell you that your experience here will be a bed of roses -- unless you count those roses as also having thorns. You will work long hours. You will struggle to understand difficult concepts. You'll sometimes feel stressed, embarrassed, and alone. What I want to stress to you now, however, is the very last point I said is untrue-- you are most definitely NOT alone.
One of the most common problems encountered by graduate and professional students is the so-called "impostor syndrome." I emphasized at the beginning of my speech that you all are among the best of the best of the best. You -- all -- are in that category, not just some of you. The impostor syndrome is the condition wherein you feel like most of the people around you are actually far more talented than you, and that you're the "fake" that may get exposed as being not worthy. You think to yourself, "Maybe in my oral exam, my dissertation advisor will suddenly discover that I actually don't know my subject nearly as much as she thought." Or "Maybe I'll bomb my boards and everyone will wonder how I actually got into school here." Let me tell you all right now. I want you to pull out your iPhones or whatever and type these 8 words. I'm dead serious. ("I'm dead serious" isn't from the 8 words.) "I AM NOT A FAKE. I BELONG HERE." Type that right now. Seriously.
Everyone falls victim to the impostor syndrome. Even your colleagues or mentors you think are truly amazing and self-confident feel it, and feel it often. Heck, when I was asked to give this speech, I looked up online and saw the previous three speakers were all deans. Here I am, Mr. "Associate Department Chair" doing a speech that deans usually do -- what were they thinking inviting me? We cannot deny that these feelings will come up, but what we have to do is push them back, not dwell on them, do our best, and then be proud with whatever we did. That's what I'm doing right now. That's what I want all of you to do throughout your time here.
This comes around full circle to my advice -- STAY AWESOME. In order to accomplish this, you also have to accept that you are awesome already. You will have successes here. And you will have challenges and setbacks to overcome. But you all, all, are worthy and capable.
When I interviewed for graduate school, I met a student in the program I was exploring who had accomplished a ton of research even before arriving. Later in my interview, I told the department chair that I wasn't sure I was good enough for the program. He told me, "It's not up to you to decide if you're good enough to come here. We've already made that decision. It's up to you to make the most of it." Right now, I will repeat similar words to you all:
You are awesome, and that's why you've been admitted here. Remember that. Show the world what you can do with the opportunities at Duke. Show Duke what you can do and learn from what others are doing. And most importantly, keep a positive outlook while you pursue your dream here. You have already done us proud, and you'll just reaffirm our pride in your years here and thereafter. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk with you. Stay awesome!
Pictured below: New graduate and professional students mingle at a post-convocation reception Wednesday. Photo by Geoffrey Mock.
© 2013 Office of News & Communications
615 Chapel Drive, Box 90563, Durham, NC 27708-0563
(919) 684-2823; After-hours phone (for reporters on deadline): (919) 812-6603