My personal mission statement is based on two principles. The first is the philosophy of Ubuntu which when directly translated into English from Bantu, means humanity. Ubuntu has many nuances. This video recording of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, describes the Bantu word Ubuntu and I think it is a part of this philosophy that most of the members of PPEM understand. We open our doors and welcome strangers. I often think that strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet.
Speaking of welcoming strangers, I want to thank everyone who participated in the Graduate Recruitment Weekend last week. We had 11 bright and dynamic students from
around the US and Costa Rica travel to our PPEM home. I believe that they felt welcomed. We opened our doors and shared what we have to give. They are strangers no more. Thanks to the recruitment committee who did a great job of selecting outstanding candidates for us to interact with. We have two additional students headed our way in the next few weeks and I know you will make them feel as welcome. Thanks to the heroic job that Carol Boring and Beth Gugino did to make sure that the 11 students this week arrived here in time for their interviews despite Thursday’s weather. Thank you all for meeting with them, showing them around, and for giving them your honest opinions about the department and the university. We want them to know who we are before they get here. I believe that like last year and the years before, many of the top candidates will choose our department for our strengths. It was the potential of the department and the feeling of Ubuntu that was the tipping point for me in my choice to come here.
The other meanings of Ubuntu also speak to me because I believe in the value and agency of all human beings. The expressions of this philosophy that echo in my head are that: 1) we are not diminished when lift others up, and 2) I am who I am by the role I play in the human family. I have always found joy in the success of others and therefore have tried to help those that are investing in themselves and ask for advice. My role in the human family is as a connector and guide and it is my goal to help others feel joy when others are lifted up. I am feel grateful to be in a position where it is my job to help others to achieve their goals and to be of service, even when they aren’t directly in line with the department’s or my own. This is one reason that my emotions were so mixed when one of last year’s recruits decided that an academic life would not serve his personal mission. I was happy for him to be heading toward his more authentic self, but sad to lose a great researcher. In the end, I was rewarded to know that his reflection in the #OwnBestMentor workshop helped him make this choice. His happiness is worth the effort of being away from my family and putting on those weekend workshops.
Although I juggle the chaos of the department head’s office, I always have time to help you take you next step on your career or with problems you may be having in the department. That is part of the PPEM and my commitment to you even when you leave and go on to be successful elsewhere. So far, I have helped PPEM members craft excellent letters of application, CVs, nominations, letters of recommendation, and other promotion documents. I have helped them strategize the best start up and retention packages. I have helped students to peacefully transition from a lab in which they were not successful to one where they could be. You may think I am here to only help members of my lab, or the faculty, or one group, or another, but in truth, I am ready to help and promote anyone who invests in themselves. Although we are taught to be insular and independent, seeking and taking help is one hallmark of success. Reaching out helps put you in context with the rest of your community. If you don’t feel like you can work with me to take your next step, please reach out to someone else in the department for help. Because our department lives Ubuntu, those around you are willing to lift you up.
Have an uplifting week.