Friday, June 9, 2017

Letter to my students on the last day of class

Dear Students,

    Thank you for your time and participation in this class. It has been a special year with changes at all scales—in many ways fascinating and wonderful, and in other ways difficult and heartbreaking. It has been a privilege to share even a small part of the story of this year together with you.

    I hope you have learned something of value—some of our collective science stories describing how the Earth works, and also the parts of the story that tell *how* it is what it is that we know. I hope you while you have been here and in the future you listen to some of the stories about the process of how science is done—often two steps forward, and one step backwards, and always conflated with the strengths and weaknesses of the human beings who are trying to uncover truth. I think there is great richness in these stories where science and human creativity work together and occasionally collide. One of my goals is to keep my eyes out for these stories and practice telling them.

    Thank you for your patience with my tinkering with this class. I am still trying to optimize how to simultaneously encourage our best work while minimizing anxiety. I think our best, most creative learning is done when we are not anxious. This year—more so than previously— I occasionally found my energy and enthusiasm waning. Thank you for giving me reasons every day to not disengage. You helped remind me to prioritize taking care of myself so that I have plenty of room for the people and ideas that energize me.

    This university's students energize me. I am in awe of your hard work, ever expanding talent, your engagement with each other, and occasionally with me. You are skilled and capable and I have never met an exception to that during my 15 years here.

    Here are my wishes for you and us as people and as scientists as you continue your studies and after you graduate, and as you build up, carve out, and share and rework your own stories.

In seeking the truth about how the world works, when you collect your data and make your observations, suspend belief and disbelief, judgment and desire. Be dispassionate with the data, and simultaneously gentle on yourself, the scientist.

Then tell your stories. The entire story that you want to share.  Be passionate as you develop  your stories, but discipline yourself to align the stories as closely as possible to the observations and data.

    Listen well to others’ stories. Be critical of the stories. Be gentle on the storytellers. Be gentle on yourself. Try to be dispassionately aware of the stories that you tell yourself in your head. Try to align these stories as close as possible with reality. Cultivate the stories that help you keep you to the path that you want to be on, and also the path of truth and connection.

Please stay in touch.

All my love,

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