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Professor Peter Hudson FRS on biology, baths and identifying your groove

Professor Peter Hudson FRS was named as an Honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) for his work in disease ecology at the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences Summer graduation ceremony.

22 July 2014

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At the ceremony Professor Hudson delivered an inspiring and witty speech, in which he offered two pieces of advice to our recent graduates.

You can read the full transcript of his speech below:

"Thank you Principal and thank you for so kindly making me a graduate of this fine university. I am extremely proud to be associated with Queen Mary University – not only are you one of the highly ranked Universities, but you are also part of the prestigious Russell Group and quite coincidentally – as some of the other undergraduates have noticed - conveniently situated for some interesting stimulating and good party places in town. Now let me turn my thanks to you the fellow graduating students of 2014. 

Thank you for turning up – its always gratifying when undergraduates turn up for lectures so I am very pleased to see you here today. Thank you for being some of the brightest minds in the country. Thank you for successfully completing the training that Queen Mary offered you.


The University is very proud of you – you are the elite and the future leaders in society. They have given you the training to go forward into the world - become innovative, highly successful, change society, win a Nobel prize, find the solution to global peace and make huge, huge quantities of money - and then in your will - leave a pile of money to the university to help the next generation. Thank you for doing that… future students will also thank you. After all, future education is going to depend on your philanthropy and your generosity to this university.

Now I would like to tell you my two secrets of life and to talk about some of my favourite subjects: Biology, fun, passion and thinking.

When I was an undergraduate I freely admit that my definition of fun was drinking, my definition of passion was chasing women, and, when the university laid on neither of these activities, then I went along to lectures and bit by bit they got me to start thinking about science.

But I am one of those very fortunate people who found their passion early in life. When I was 4 my parents gave me the Collins Field Guide to European birds and I instantly became passionate about biology and every component of Biology. I am fascinated by the intimate and dynamical relationship between parasites and their hosts – how animals perceive their environment and the very molecular and cellular processes of life.

Now I’m going to let you into my first secret of life secret – they pay me – they actually pay me to do what I am passionate about – and I would be happy to do it for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. I just think it is so sad seeing so many people not enjoying their lives or their jobs.

 I want to encourage you to identify your groove, your passion – and then live it.

Now how can you ensure you continue to have fun and still learn and reveal novel insights? Well today I am going to let you into my second secret of life, something that only the British really know about, and was the basis for our long term success in many endeavors – and it is also the reason the Americans often fail at international relations…

I want to tell you about… having a bath. I want to tell you why it is so important to have a bath and not a shower and how you can rise from your bath with screams of Eureka!  - just as Archimedes did in his bath some 2250 years ago in Syracuse Sicily. Unlike Archimedes you are surrounded by technology. Most of you will have iPods, iPads, iPhones, iMacs, iBooks, iShuffles, iNanos and every day you get e-messages, e-post, e-voice, e-mails, e-tweets, and sometimes, just sometimes… those old fashioned brown oblong envelopes containing bills.

But, this is not enough information to satisfy you. So you go on the web to check out the wikis and the blogs - the Youtube and the Teachertube, the Godtube and the Daily tube … You are surrounded and bombarded by information technology like our mothers would never have believed.

I admit. I love it. I adore data and I love sifting through data to reveal the mechanisms but this information overload has a major negative side and this is that you are continually in a responsive mode. A state of mind awaiting delivery. You are not proactive and you do not think. You open your mind to the tidal wave of information and you fail to process it cleanly or to test your ideas against it ~ you simply wait to be stimulated and shocked. There is simply no time to contemplate. There is no time to apply logical thinking to problems.

I don’t believe great discoveries and insight came from waiting to be stimulated? Issac Newton was thinking when he sat under his apple tree, Darwin had a special “thinking path” that weaved around the woods at Downe House as he pieced together the theory of Evolution and Albert Einstein used thought experiments to give him exceptional and creative ways to think and solve problems

You need time to think.  You need a place to think and you need somewhere you can avoid the technology ~ somewhere you can avoid the information abuse and the continual stimulation and that place is your bath tub ~ you can lie there and think. Your technology doesn’t work and indeed if you take it into the bath it will simply fizzle and break.

You lie there and there is nothing worth watching and your mind becomes creative and proactive and you think. Showers are no replacement, in showers you jump in conduct your ablutions and move on.

You need a bath tub.

This has many other benefits. It provides the university with a wonderful way of assessing students and colleagues that are great thinkers ~ indeed I am going to propose to the Principal and your lecturers that we scrap all examinations and simply record who are the clean students, the ones that are bright, smell of soap, have wrinkled skin. Those students will be the ones that have been thinking hard and clearly deserve a good degree.

Graduates of Queen Mary University, the class of 2014: if I can offer you one piece of advice, learn to think and be creative without boundaries and cluttered by technology… I recommend you have a bath.

Thank you for turning up and thank you for listening and thank you for making me a graduate of Queen Mary University."

 

 

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