I’m a strong believer in stochastic processes, and while individuals may go off
in directions we don’t like, I’m confident that the aggregate activity of large
numbers of smart people expressing themselves in public will end up making the
world a better place.
So let me just give you a few general guidelines.
Create more smart people. The best thing you can do for the future is to
encourage and enable more people to follow you, by teaching, mentorship,
example, or support. This is basic: you all know that science is a collaborative
enterprise, so you should have had this dunned into your head by now. I should
also warn you that your alumni association will be contacting you regularly from
now on to remind you of your duty.
– Here’s another one you may take for granted, but I assure you, much of the world outside your circle of nerds does not: Criticize. It’s one of the most powerful tools in the scientific toolbox, and self-criticism and constant testing and evaluation of our ideas is how we make our understanding greater. If you haven’t gotten out of the lab much in the
last few years, you may be surprised at how much shock and dismay you can
generate with the simple words, “I think you’re wrong, and here’s why.” Don’t be
shy about using them!
– More generally, communicate. All these years of training have stuffed
your brains with arcane knowledge — you know amazing things that few other
You already know about the expectation that you will write
your knowledge up in the form of arcane articles for even more arcane journals,
but you should also feel an obligation to explain it all to everyone else. I
don’t mean this as an excuse to be a deadly bore at parties, but that you should
put serious effort into explaining the significance of what you do to people
like your grandmother, or the readers of your local paper, or the president of
the United States.
– One final admonition. What is going on here is a small miracle. You are all going to be receiving a nearly identical piece of parchment that says you are all graduates of the Keck School of Medicine. Yet, did you notice, you did not have to sign a loyalty oath to enroll here? There is no USC Dogma you are expected to adhere to. Some of you may have immersed yourself in such different specialties that you scarcely understand what your equally specialized peers say about their work, or you may disagree with each others’ positions.
You have different politics, different religious beliefs, different
cultural backgrounds, and I think you can even go so far as to decide to root
for the UCLA Bruins, and they won’t revoke your degree. I look out at you all
sitting there in your identical black uniforms and ridiculous hats, and am
amused at the incongruity, because the one thing I can know about you all is
that you are intellectually diverse and independent.