Advice 4.28.23

Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff, It’s that time again, the week before Commencement, and everything is almost in place. Our College of Science ceremony is May 4, and thank you! to everyone who has volunteered. It will be a wonderful celebration! Speaking of celebrations, congratulations! to all COS Awardees, what a fun event we had yesterday, and thank you to the organizers! Congratulations! to all COS Tier 1 Awardees! And thank you! to faculty who contributed to the important Humanics Workshop this week. There’s one thing left for me before Commencement, which is what to say to the graduates. The topic I’ve chosen is Advice. I bet you’re an expert on this topic, so please tell me, when was the last time someone gave you advice? Last year, last month, yesterday? How was it? Was it a surprise gift, or did you seek it out? And what did you do with this advice? Archive it, throw it away, consider it, or even follow the suggestion? It seems that there are three kinds of advice: external, osmotic and inner. Externaladvice is the kind you know best: where the ‘unsolicited’ sub-category is advice given to you, with a preamble like ‘You should..’ or more respectfully ‘You might find it useful to consider..’. Unsolicited external advice is often not welcomed, with my guesstimate of <25% adoption. ‘Solicited’ external advice is always more welcome, although seeking this requires that you understand you need some help and have the courage to ask for it. If you get there, I’d advise (hah!) that you listen carefully and not be shy to ask clarifying questions. For example, when I was a junior faculty member, I gave our Institute Director a draft of my first NIH grant. He got back to me and said, well you know every grant needs a backbone, and yours needs a backbone. I had no idea what he meant, but it sounded like he thought I should, so I said thank you and went away. The grant did not get funded, and it took a while for me to figure out why. How much better if I’d asked, but I had to learn to do that.  Osmotic advice is by observation and experience. ‘I see and decide to do’. It can take some maturity to make decisions by this means, but there’s a lot to be gained by observing fellow humans in action. I received osmotic advice from Mrs von Maltitz, a teacher who I’ve celebrated before. After her husband was killed by a drunk driver, she did the very unusual for the time, and as a single parent, raised her son while being a brilliant high school science teacher. By observation, I learned about keeping going through difficult times, even while finding time to communicate the wonder of science. Osmotic advice can be ignored, but I would put the adoption rate higher, maybe 50%? And then there is Inner advice – that comes from within to reassure ‘I can identify a comfortable path’ or ‘I can decide on a good course forward’. Inner advice may be the last category to appear in someone’s life because you need awareness of what works for you. I often ask ‘what is comfortable?’ as a way of deciding between options. Perhaps this is the most likely advice category to be adopted, say 75% of the time? That is what I might talk to our new graduates about on Thursday morning. I bet they have a whole heap of accrued advice that could be unpacked and sorted. Perhaps we can take time to do this together during the event, but even better, we will likely simply celebrate together!