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Honoured Alumni Pass Along Valuable Advice

February 2, 2016 — 


“Get your hands dirty.”

Advice you’d expect from a gardener, less so from a successful scientist.

Regardless, more than one of the University of Manitoba Faculty of Science’s 2016 Honoured Alumni echoed this sentiment as they responded to questions from students at the Pathways to Exceptional Achievement event.

The alumni gathered at the Robert B. Schultz Lecture theatre on January 21st for the Faculty of Science’s inaugural awards event.




The majority of the event was focused on giving students a chance to learn from the experiences of successful graduates of the Faculty by asking the alumni share their wisdom with the audience.

After being presented with their 2016 Honoured Alumni Awards, they began fielding questions from students and sharing their experience.

Dr. Rene Harrison – Honoured Alumnus in Biological Sciences – started off the panel discussion, “To start I would try and get your hands dirty and approach your professors about any possible opportunities in their laboratories. And for that, I would cast a wide net and not marry yourself to one specific discipline.”

Approach your professors, “and try and get your foot in the door, because whatever they’re studying you’ll get the same strategies to understanding problems,” said Harrison.

Dr. A. John Petkau – Honoured Alumnus in Statistics – added, “Be willing to talk to people, spend time, interact with the other people, find out what they’re interested in, what their problems are, and if you find them at all interesting – just jump on them.”

“Opportunities for internships and interaction with off-campus companies, organizations, non profits … opportunities to integrate what you’re being taught and what you’re learning in the classroom with something that is actionable in a practical setting.”

The panel discussion then ranged from the topic of skills & experience to career paths.

Kathy Bardswick – Honoured Alumnus in Mathematics – opened her comments by setting the tone for most of the discussion, “What is really critical for the world today is courage and curiosity.”

Harrison recommends, “For students that are interested in going into research, then just plow into it. And to make it, I think, you need a certain amount of persistence, because it’s difficult – things don’t work, experiments don’t work … but it’s really a matter of just keeping that dream and that passion moving forward.”

Dr. Michael Mulvey – Honoured Alumnus in Microbiology, “You shouldn’t be afraid of failure; it’s good to have lots of balls in the air, lots of projects on the go and some may pan out, some may not, but all of those projects you always learn something from.”

“Don’t be afraid to try new things, don’t be afraid of failure and I think if you follow those rules you should be starting out, at least, on a good path.”

To redirect the audience towards their part in the greater world of the sciences, Dr. Mark de Jong – Honoured Alumnus in Physics and Astronomy – said, “I want to emphasize the working with people.”

“The importance of pulling together teams of diverse people, of many backgrounds – that any really significant problem or challenge entails a broad range of expertise that has to come together and it’s really important to be able to work with people with different backgrounds – get that integrated and push it through rather than try and work as just an individual.”

Bardswick added, “Just getting our heads around the kinds of … solutions that we need, and the complexities of those solutions, needs the multidisciplinary approach; needs collaboration; needs all of you in (science) with all of your disciplines to find ways to work more readily together, more effectively together.”




In the most practical advice of the event, the alumni tackled the inevitable queries of ‘What path should I take? What area should I study?’

Dr. Dwayne Miller – Honoured Alumni in Chemistry – spoke about how to focus, “You have to be careful with your idea. The advice (is) … (it’s) The Question – so you don’t go for area or what the application is, it’s ‘what’s the answer’ – the question has to drive you.”

Bardswick added, “Don’t chase titles and prestige, chase the opportunities that you think you want to have to contribute and to create something that is bigger than yourself, and to learn.”

Bardswick further cautioned against the drive to seek out wealth and business opportunities as a path for students and instead focused on the essential traits.

“Collaboration and courage and curiosity … there’s something there that’s magical, that universities are able to address,” unlike the business world where she said it is far more rigid.

“Innovation needs time and it needs failure … and environments that allow that to happen.”

Petkau closed the panel discussion with a summary of all the advice, “Try and explore a little bit; don’t take too narrow a view of what your education should be; and try not to close doors before you have to, keep open; be alert to opportunities that arise; but basically, just follow your dreams.”

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