[Commencement Speech] Beyond the Obstacles Facing Young Scientists
[Commencement Speech] Beyond the Obstacles Facing Young Scientists
  • Prof. Rudolph A. Marcus / Nobel Laureate 1992
  • 승인 2004.02.18 00:00
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It is both a pleasure and an honor to address you and congratulate you,the graduating class of 2004.
Almost 61 years ago, I was in a position similar to yours, but at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Like you, I loved learning new subjects, and looked forward to the life ahead.
Finding one’s real vocation is not necessarily an easy task ? For me it took some five years after graduation, three of them earning a Ph.D. in Chemistry and two of them as a post-doctoral fellow doing experiments in the laboratory. The awakening for me was going into theoretical chemistry, and some seven years later I published a paper on the theory of electron transfer reactions. It was the key paper for which I later received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Many times I have heard the phrase “Taking a Chance” ? Sometimes to develop one’s life it is necessary to strike out in new directions. It is a gamble but is a way of exploring possible alternatives. For me it was a gamble trying to become a theoretical chemist when I had been trained instead in experimental research. One aspect of my undergraduate and graduate training did help in the new vocation and indeed was a stimulant for it ? A love of mathematics.
You may also encounter, as I did, temporary obstacles in your developing careers. But one should not be discouraged by adversity. I recall, for example, that when I applied to six eminent theoretical chemists in the U.S. for a post-doctoral fellowship, only one of them reponded favorably. But that was enough; his interests meshed with my own, and one outcome was a theory of unimolecular relations which is still the standard theory in the field more than 50 years later. So, that one acceptance had far-reaching consequences. Recognition does not always occur instantaneously and there was a ten-year delay in the recognition of the unimolecular theory. Or when I applied for a faculty position to thirty-five universities none replied favorably, and a faculty position arose only as a result of some subsequent coincidences.
Decisions in life are often deliberate and there are also many surprises. For example, again drawing on my own experience, continuing to work on the unimolecular theory seemed to me to be a waste of time. There weren’t enough experiments to test the theory then. However, stopping research on it abruptly proved to be a fortunate decision, even though it was not clear to me what to do next. It freed up time to think of other problems. A few years later, prompted by a student’s question in a different field, I was led to make a detailed study of many physics texts, which led my solving the electron transfer problem.
You see how random the path of a career in science can be - a little luck here and a little luck there, and a tremendous amount of endeavor.
I leave you with these thoughts and hope that beyond the necessary efforts that you will need to make in your career you will always be filled with the joy of life.