A famous Japanese proverb prescribes, “Fall seven times, get up eight.” What empowers us to get up the eight time? Grit, says University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth. Her viral TED talk and novel “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” explains that the secret to success is a willingness to keep on trying even in the face of failure (i.e., grit) and that anyone can develop it. But some people can endure more than others, making them better equipped to take on life’s challenges, however great or small. How can we rectify this disparity? Research.
Everyone should do research at Yale, regardless of the field or application. At Bulldog Days this past March, I mingled with other prefrosh from across the country. We eventually, inevitably reached the bulldog in the room: How exactly did you get in? We circled around, and, out of six answers, every answer included scientific research. Only two people, however, were considering STEM majors. We glossed over this coincidence, but, looking back, I find it worth investigating. While this sample size may not have been indicative of the entire class, it was certainly not a coincidence.
Last week, Associate Dean for Science and Quantitative Reasoning Education Sandy Chang confirmed my suspicions at a health professions advising session. Medical schools don’t care about the field in which you conduct research because all research shows resiliency, he said. Working in a lab environment, or any research environment, really — I was recently at a Classics Department dinner and met a student researching Germanic and Roman coins in one of Yale’s archives — builds vital skills of perseverance, skills that are applicable to life at Yale and beyond.
Research can be pesky and infuriating, intriguing and enlightening. Professors, graduate students, postdocs, technicians and undergraduates are moving around each other, each with varying degrees of uncertainty as to what is actually going on. I, for one, was intimidated by the sheer amount that I had to learn when working in a science research setting during high school summers. But I learned on the job by constantly trying to make myself useful, by seeking to understand what was then beyond my level.
Research is seldom a solitary activity. At Yale, we are all — or should be — engaged in the study of something that intrigues us, that enlightens us. Even if you don’t believe that research will boost your endurance, your grit, it’s undeniable that it introduces you to a concentrated network of interesting people doing interesting things, people and things that might influence your own endeavors. As we enter an interdisciplinary age in which Yale seeks to merge things like data and neuroscience, psychology and computer science, a liberal arts education and a strong STEM program, research is an essential skill. An educated person in ancient times may have known the Iliad by heart; in the Middle Ages, Shakespearean plays, but, today, educated people should know how to identify, address and solve an issue via research.
Research is resiliency, and, in many ways, we Yale students are here because we are resilient. Whether that manifested itself in doing homework through the morning, investing countless hours into sports or the arts or growing up in difficult circumstances, all of us have encountered and overcome adversity. We live in an era where knowledge is readily accessible, and yet, our biggest challenges will only be solved through the grit and innovation developed in a research environment.
Samuel Turner is a first year in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .