Between biweekly faculty talks with the Howard Hughes program and the weekly talks in the Computer Science department, this summer has been truly a plunge into academia. While I enjoyed listening to all the research, what I liked most about the faculty talks had nothing to do with the science (usually). My favorite part of the seminars was hearing about how everyone got involved in research. No one’s story is the same. There is no one path into the life of academia. For a lot of speakers, it was a matter of chance. The chance of taking a life-changing course in college. The chance of reading a specific paper at a specific time. The chance of having a professor have faith in you.
No matter how they got started, it’s the passion people have for what they are studying that I find truly interesting. One talk that stood out to me was that of Dr. Huntington Willard. Unlike other speakers, he didn’t spend much time at all on his work and instead spoke entirely about getting into research. It is so clear that he loves what he does and really wants to help young people find what they love.
The way that he got into research: being in the right place at the right time. What are the chances of him stumbling across a paper on X inactivation while waiting in the library, the topic that would be his research focus for the next twenty years? What are the chances that he would find something that he is so passionate about? What are the chances of anyone finding that passion, really? The way Dr. Willard described it, it was fate. His advice about research came from years of experience and from years of perseverance in his field, and I appreciate him taking the time to share what he has learned.
Regardless of whether I end up in research, I truly am thankful for the faculty talks this summer. They opened my eyes to the passion people can have for their work. No matter what path each of the speakers took to get to where they are today, they all ended up with the opportunity to spend their life studying what they love. Maybe it was chance, maybe it was fate. Either way, it sounds pretty great.