The scientific legacy.

Last night, I had to sit in a crowded chapel, surrounded by friends, colleagues, and teachers, and listen as my PhD advisor gave a eulogy about one of his current graduate students.

I have listened to him speak at many occasions.  There are the professional events, of course:  meetings, seminars, dissertation defenses and the like.  There are the social events:  he has seen many of his lab through weddings and births.  I just never imagined him presiding over a memorial.  As I listened to him speak in such glowing terms about this student I was touched by how much of a measure of a persons character it is to be able to rise to such an occasion and meet it with such dignity and courage.  As he shared some thoughtful stories about his student, I remembered back to my years in his lab.  The traditions that have become established started with the first of us, and I was happy to know that they continue.  The spaces that I walked are now occupied by a new group, yet I was among the first. The experiments that are being done now developed out of work that started when I was one of just a few in a new, small but growing research lab. For a little while last night I once again felt myself to be part of this growing yet close knit community. 

When I moved on to my post doc lab, I didn't move far:  across the street and up a floor.  Yet, in an effort to look forward, I tried to distance myself a little from my graduate lab, and over the years that distance has seemed to grow.  As I reconnected with everyone I realized that my 'distance' is only imaginary and that you never really leave. I realized that I may have moved on, but I left behind a part of me; a small legacy.  I was humbled.  I was proud.  I was filled with nostalgia, and I was filled with a desire to work harder; to strive for greater successes. 

Perhaps that is the measure of a good advisor.  Even in the face of tragedy he has made me feel welcome, he has made me feel worthy, and he has motivated me to move forward. And I am reminded of why I 'do' science:  to find something new, yes; to 'make the world better', yes; and to leave a little of myself behind. 
Every time someone references one my publications, I know I have succeeded. And so, every time I author a paper, I will do so in honor of those who taught me.  I will do do in honor of those who follow me. I will do so in memory of those who are now silent, but always present.


Stacey said...

Really lovely words...thank you for sharing this.

Samia said...

What Stacey said. Got me all teary and stuff.