Rachael Bonoan, Ph.D. recipient from the Department of Biology at Tufts University gives the GSAS doctoral hooding address

Stay Curious

2018 GSAS Doctoral Hooding Student Address by Rachael Bonoan, Ph.D. recipient from the Department of Biology.

First of all, congratulations to all the new Ph.D.s here today, their families, their friends, and their mentors! Getting a Ph.D. takes a village and thankfully, we have that village in our loved ones, our mentors, and the graduate student community here at Tufts. I think I speak for all of us when I say THANK YOU.

Getting a Ph.D. requires a village because it is a mental, physical, and emotional challenge that takes years to accomplish. By the time we defend our theses, we all have so much to be proud of; so much and so many to be thankful for. But I know I’m not alone when I say that getting your Ph.D. also takes a lot out of you.

After devoting years of our lives to answering extremely specific questions in painstaking detail, it’s understandable to feel a little “burnt out." As I was in the throes of writing my dissertation—that long document that many of you probably don’t want to look at again for a long time—this happened to me. I spent so many hours holed up, writing about honey bee nutrition and behavior, that I began to get sick of honey bees. (Which truly pains me to admit because anyone who know me knows I love honey bees!)

As this was happening, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking:

“Will I really be able to finish this?”

“How did I even make it this far?”

And outside of the “village” that supported me all along, the answer I found was curiosity.

As I thought back to the beginning of my graduate journey here at Tufts, I realized it didn’t start with nutritional ecology and ecological immunity in honey bees. It started with a semester-long lab rotation, an open mind, and a healthy dose of curiosity. Curiosity about the natural world. Curiosity about evolution and ecology. Curiosity that blossomed into something more than I could have ever imagined; it opened doors, expanded my horizons, and pushed me through even the most challenging moments.

Curiosity is what keeps us alive. It keeps us aware of, and connected to, the world around us. It inspires us to pursue answers. It helps us solve problems.

Rachael BonoanBiology Ph.D.

Think back to the beginning of your dissertation. What were you curious about? How did your curiosity shape your dissertation? How did it drive you to keep going, to uncover new questions? How did it encourage you when that experiment failed or that bit of research hit a dead end? How did it help you make your mark in your field?  I’m willing to bet that if you look even further back, back to when you were a child bombarding your parents with questions about almost everything, you’d see a similar theme.

Curiosity drives us from the day we’re born. And it has led us to where we stand today. Don’t EVER let it fade away. Not now. Not 40 years from now. Not even as you get into the nitty gritty comments from Reviewer Three, who clearly does not understand your research and/or did not read your paper carefully. 

Because curiosity is what keeps us alive. It keeps us aware of, and connected to, the world around us. It inspires us to pursue answers. It helps us solve problems. And if there’s one thing we’ve all learned these past several years, it’s how to solve problems!

As we enter the world with our Ph.D.s, whatever paths we take, let’s enter it armed with the same curiosity that brought us this far. It hasn’t failed us yet!  And we’re just getting started.

Bonoan received a Graduate Student Research Competition award in Fall 2016. Her dissertation is titled, “Surviving in a Variable Environment: Nutritional Ecology, Behavioral Ecology, and Ecological Immunity in Honey Bees.” She is a post-doctoral researcher in the Crone Lab (Tufts) and the Schultz Lab (Washington State University) studying ant-butterfly interactions in the South Puget Sound, W.A.