D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Awardees Impart Wisdom to Research Fellows

D. Wynne Thorne Awardees Utah State University

The Office of Research and Graduate Studies held a networking breakfast and lecture on Tuesday in honor of USU’s first vice president for research, D. Wynne Thorne. Past career research awardees and others spoke to current presidential doctoral fellows to share what they’ve learned through their careers. Below are some of the highlights:

What inspires you?

Jim MacMahon, 1988 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Awardee: “The thing that inspires me most are the young people I work with. They get all the the work done and we just take all the glory.”

What strategies have you found useful to collaborate and connect with other researchers at different institutions who work in a similar area?

Karl White, 1995 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Awardee: “Admit you don’t know everything. Be willing to ask questions and take advice from others. In doing that, you find out a lot of preconceived notions you have about how the world works turn out to not be true.”

Do you have any tips for inspiring creativity in your work?

Steven Aust, 2003 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Awardee: “I don’t think I ever just dreamt up a research project. I like to solve problems, and I always told students, ‘If you have a really good background and training, you can solve almost any problem.’ I tell that to students who are working on any kind of subject imaginable, because I don’t like to see them get pigeonholed into a certain category. Just explore. If a lot of people are asking questions about something, it’s probably something worth working on.”

What are the most trying aspects of working in academia?

DeeVon Bailey, 2006 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Awardee: “I think that in academics, there are challenges you face each day – someone you don’t get along with, politics you don’t appreciate – but that’s all pretty minor. One of the fellows asked me today if it was a good choice, and I said a resounding, ‘Yes!’ You are going to have a different kind of challenge, because every person you are working with is bright. They have their own ideas about how things should happen, but that’s a strength as well, because you can learn from each other.”

Are there certain advantages to academic research as compared to professional work or government agency careers?

Lance Seefeldt, 2012 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Awardee: “The real advantage is the freedom, the freedom to get to chase what you want to chase. I’ve had many times where I sit and just think of something interesting, and then just chase it. There’s challenges in finding the money and students who are interested in doing it, but it’s worth it.”

What do you find helps you come up with novel, exciting ideas to test?

John Neely, 2013 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Awardee: “I have no shortage of ideas, just a shortage of the time to do it all. One of the great privileges of being in an academic setting is I can encourage my students to take on these ideas.”

How have you balanced your targeted question with being able to step back and place your research in a broader context?

Ray Reutzel, 2007 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Awardee: “That’s the beauty about higher education, you have the freedom to pursue a lot of things that interest you. If you become pigeonholed, it’s usually because it’s your choice. If you want to associate with others, and work interdisciplinary projects, that’s certainly open to you. Being able to work outside of your discipline, you really enjoy getting to know people who can add a lot of richness and background to the things you are interested in. Find people you enjoy, and learn from their passions.”

What advice do you have for individuals who are new to academic research?

Jim Evans, 2014 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Awardee: “My strategy is first and foremost to work with good people. Academics have a spectrum of personalities. I’ve encountered most of them, and have been able to shed those who are less helpful, and gravitate toward those who are most helpful. Ultimately, everything we do is for the students, because we rise and fall by good students.”

What made you decide to go the academic route?

Beth Foley, dean of the college of education: “It came from a desire to train students how to become professionals. It was a different way of being able to share my specialty in speech language pathology. I saw a lot of gaps in people’s training when I was out in the field, and I wanted to share what I knew with a broader audience.”

Does becoming successful mean you have to sacrifice in other areas, such as home life and hobbies? If not, how do you strike a healthy balance?

Mark McLellan, vice president of research and dean of graduate studies: “I went through incredible periods where I threw everything, 24/7, at the job. I wasn’t always like that, and I’m not like that today. There are times when you give it all, but it’s important that if you push like that, you also pull back, to maintain that central balance…to restore. Life balance is critical. It’s amazing how short our life on this Earth is. You can make a big difference through the passion of your work, but also in the passion of who you are. Balance makes you richer, and a better person to be around professionally and personally.”