By Wells B. LaRiviere
Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given came during my final year at Reed College. In the midst of a departmental meeting, a professor exhorted the seniors to select a thesis topic that we cared so deeply about that we would work tirelessly on it, even “during the darkest days of February,” to see through its completion.
It helps to have lived in Portland to understand just how deeply he felt about motivation, because it gets really dark in the depths of the Portland winter. Still, even if you have never set foot in Oregon, I think it’s easy to relate to his words. In education, there is a sense that one is constantly trying to catch up; running a gauntlet of never-ending hurdles, each yet higher than the last. Each mistake or misstep seems crushingly disappointing, and often there is the temptation to surrender to self-doubt. No matter how dark February gets in your part of the world, pursuing academics is always an inherently difficult task.
So, how do we find the motivation to persevere? Everyone discovers his or her own answer. For many, the intellectual challenge of academics is its own reward; at the end of the day, no matter how frustrating it may be, working with your mind is a privileged activity. Not to mention the great pleasure to be had working in the company of like-minded students, with whom you share a certain curiosity about the world around you.
Of principal importance is the personal reservoir of dedication that comes from a true conviction that what you are doing is something that should be and needs to be done. If we did not believe in the importance of our field of study, how could we possibly justify its pursuit in the first place?
As a post-baccalaureate student researcher here at Mayo Clinic, I firmly believe that the missions of the medical and biological sciences are inherently altruistic pursuits, and should bring with them a certain sense of satisfaction. I know this on a deeply personal level. As a patient of Polycystic Kidney Disease, I am sincerely thankful for the efforts of the countless professionals who spend their careers combating an illness that has so deeply impacted my life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others. Today I have the privilege of doing my own part, as I begin my research training under the mentorship of Dr. Vicente Torres at the Mayo Translational PKD Center.
I address the topic of motivation today because I have far too often known students and even faculty in the professions of medicine and science who seem perpetually disappointed in their academic achievements. No matter how great their accomplishments, I have heard time and time again expressions of insecurity and regret from people whom I hold in the highest regard. Once, in speaking with my personal nephrologist about my academic ambitions, he expressed misgivings about the arc of his own career. I could scarcely believe him – as a talented physician employed by a well-reputed academic medical center, I had difficulty understanding his disappointment. I can only understand his regrets to be sourced in a problem of perspective; were he to walk a day in my shoes and to know the sincere gratitude I have for him and his colleagues, I think he would find some long-overdue satisfaction.
While my own experiences as a patient have left an indelible impression on the way I view my work here at Mayo Clinic, I do not think you need to have experienced disease firsthand to understand the importance of the medical sciences. Whether you work in research, healthcare, education, or the arts, you are participating in the living legacy of your vocation. Your contributions, no matter how small, are the thread to a rich tapestry of human endeavor. Don’t allow yourself to falter when what you are doing does not go according to plan; I can promise you that, somewhere out there, there is someone who is deeply grateful that you are doing it at all.
“Wells presenting the OHSU Golden Rose award to his former physician, Dr. Sandra Iragorri.”
Wells B. LaRiviere is a student in the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at Mayo Clinic and under the mentorship of Dr. Vicente Torres.