SOGSR Class of 2017

School of Graduate Studies and Research Welcomes New Students With White Coats and Pins

George C. Hill, Ph.D.Remarks of George C. Hill, Ph.D., Distinguished Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology Emeritus and Levi Watkins, Jr. Professor in Medical Education Emeritus and President of Leadership Excellence, LLCto the SOGSR Class of 2017 during their White Coat Ceremony August 16, 2013

“Today, in some community, a 31-year-old African-American woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer. On average, she will present with her cancer at a younger age, develop a more aggressive tumor type, present at a more advanced stage and face a slimmer chance of survival than her white counterpart. Some of this will be due to an innate biological and genetic predisposition and some will be due to later presentation as a result of mistrust in the health care system and lack of confidence that biomedical research could help save her life or the lives of others.”  

These are the words of Ann Bonham, Chief Scientific Officer, of the Association of American Medical Colleges who recently wrote a blog entitled, How Will We Treat This Generation’s Henrietta Lacks.”   

You will be the one with the answer to that question.  

The journey that you are beginning is one that you have anticipated for some time. As you initiate your efforts to obtain a Master of Science in Public Health or your Ph.D. degree, you are entering a new phase of your life. These are important steps that you are taking. You have given it a lot of thought and have decided to go down this road.

For some of you, the decision was easier than for others. Some of you required more time for the decision. But, in all cases, there is a commonality. You want to serve, not all of you in the same way, but you want to serve. You look down the road and see yourself with your degree working in a hospital, or conducting biomedical research, perhaps serving as an administrator, becoming a scientific writer, or conducting clinical trials, working to advance public health, to name a few potential future professions.    

And as you seek your profession, part of your training in the next few years will focus on what being a professional means and the components that make up an ethical, moral scientist. Students and faculty have been on this journey.    

All of you are aware of the many responsibilities that you must meet in order to graduate… the classes that you will take, the mentor that you must select, the research requirements that you must fulfill and the thesis or papers that you must complete.  Soon, you will be able to tick these requirements off and begin to put a check beside them as you progress. And, your mentors and your committee members will begin to hear very soon……. “How much more do I have to do in order to be finished?” It is the anthem of a graduate student!

But there is another aspect of your training that is equally important. What will be your character as a scientist? On what foundation are you going to build your career? To what pressures will you succumb? Will you understand and learn the principles of research integrity or will they be some foreign set of principles important, but not critical, in you obtaining your degree?

In the past, I have become aware of the concerns of various students who had to deal with serious threats to them achieving their degree because of their lack of understanding of the research ethics and what were the dimensions of professionalism.  This threat almost terminated their journey down the road that you are now taking. In both cases, the issue was the citation of published material.

Consider the following suggested by an author on scientific integrity:
An ambitious graduate student, when analyzing data, collected for his master's thesis, changed the numbers in two experimental conditions to make the results fit his hypothesis.

A university professor, serving as a reviewer of a manuscript submitted for publication in a research journal, provided copies of the manuscript to graduate students so that they could prepare their own critiques as an educational exercise in peer review…

A busy senior scientist, mentoring several Ph.D. and postdoctoral students, neglected to monitor their methods of data collection.
A well-known researcher, highly successful in obtaining extramural research funding and having a long list of publications, insisted that her name be included as an author on all publications emanating from her laboratory.

Imagine with me, for a moment, the following scenario.  A friend of yours has breast cancer. The physician recommends a new treatment that has just been approved after clinical trials. The hospital, in which she is to be treated, has outpatient services and the administrator has noted that their data shows they have treated similar patients with positive results.

Your friend comes to you for advice.

How do you know that the new drug is safe? How do you know the hospital is the place to have such treatment done? Do you have confidence in the results of the clinical trials?

As you begin your training, you must ask yourself – What are the principles of professionalism and research integrity of which you must be aware?  An excellent statement of these principles is found on WebGuru.

Why Is Research Integrity So Important?   

 “Research integrity is the commitment – sometimes in the face of adversity – to the trustworthiness of the research process by the greater scientific community.

It is important – even critical – because the greater scientific community can only INNOVATE and FLOURISH when its members function together as a body to ensure a climate that promotes confidence and trust in our research findings, encourages free and open exchange of research materials and new ideas, upholds personal and corporate accountability and acknowledges and respects the intellectual contributions of others in the greater community.”

And, to be a successful researcher and scientist, you must learn how to communicate and cooperate with your fellow students, researchers and faculty. You must acquire the skills of humility, listening, productive debate, respect for others opinions and the importance of developing team building skills. That is how research is done today.

In On Being a Scientist, published by the National Academy of Sciences, the three key obligations as a scientist with professionalism and integrity are stated clearly:

1.  An obligation to honor the trust that your colleagues have placed in you. You must be trustworthy.

2. An obligation to yourself. Irresponsible conduct in research can make it impossible to achieve your goal

3. An obligation to act in ways that serve the public
When all is said, in the final analysis, it depends on what will be the foundation of your professional house? How will you build it?    As was written in Matthew 7:24-27, in regard to the wise and the foolish builders:

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Returning to Dr. Bonham’s description of the 31-year-old African- American female, she asks a question at the end of her article:

“Can we stand on the shoulders of Henrietta Lacks and her family to actively answer the concerns about genetic discrimination; resolve this legacy of mistrust, abuse, and exclusion; and grapple with the concerns about privacy, so that a 31-year-old African-American woman with breast cancer in 2013 will have the same benefits of major medical findings from research — genomic and otherwise — as her Caucasian counterparts?”

You WILL reach the first goal of your journey, your degree. I hope that your foundation will be strong and everlasting, leading to a professional career of value and meaning.  

When things get difficult, and they certainly will, think of what Paul Lawrence Dunbar said in the poem, The Seedling:

The Seedling
As a quiet little seedling
Lay within its darksome bed,
To itself it fell a-talking,
And this is what it said:

'I am not so very robust,
But I'll do the best I can;'
And the seedling from that moment
Its work of life began.

So it pushed a little leaflet
Up into the light of day,
To examine the surroundings
And show the rest the way.

The leaflet liked the prospect,
So it called its brother, Stem;
Then two other leaflets heard it,
And quickly followed them.

To be sure, the haste and hurry
Made the seedling sweat and pant;
But almost before it knew it
It found itself a plant.

The sunshine poured upon it,
And the clouds they gave a shower;
And the little plant kept growing
Till it found itself a flower.

Little folks, be like the seedling,
Always do the best you can;
Every child must share life's labor
Just as well as every man.

And the sun and showers will help you
Through the lonesome, struggling hours,
Till you raise to light and beauty
Virtue's fair, unfading flowers.
Paul Laurence Dunbar

Finally, as you travel this road, be yourself!

I love what Steve Jobs said at the 2005 Stanford Commencement and I think it is so important for our students, as well as faculty.
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

After all…in the scheme of things, you have very little time.  
Only a Minute
You have only just a minute,
Only sixty seconds in it,
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,
But it’s up to you to use it,
Give account if you abuse it,
Answer for it if you lose it,
Just a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it!

Thank you very much!