Doctoral speaker and UF faculty member Scott Powers’ speech for Friday’s doctoral ceremony

Scott Powers, is a Distinguished Professor and the UAA Endowed Professor in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Performance. An expert in exercise and its impacts on the health of human muscles, Dr. Powers’ research has resulted in more than 250 refereed journal articles, nearly 32,000 citations and numerous “Highly Cited Paper” awards from Web of Science. His speech is below:

Find and Follow Your Passion

Thank you President Fuchs.  Let me begin by acknowledging the presence of the esteemed members of the faculty, honored guests, proud family members, devoted friends, and above all, graduates.

Congratulations to this outstanding doctoral class of 2019. Each of you have much to be proud of, having completed your doctoral degree at one of the finest universities in the world.

For those of you that like short commencement addresses, you have come to the right place! I am going to speak for 9 minutes. As a speaker at many scientific conferences, I am well aware of the fact that there is no greater pleasure that you can give audience than your closing remarks. So, all of you can look forward to experiencing this pleasure in 9 short minutes. I predict some of you have already started your stopwatches.

I would like to tell you three stories from my life that I hope will be useful. But ultimately, today is not about me, but about you –you’re incredible accomplishments, and your choices and path ahead.

My first story concerns passion and the French Riviera … Um, no, it’s not what you think.

When I completed my terminal degree, the US economy was in a recession and jobs at both universities and industry were in short supply.

I applied for almost every job available and was lucky enough to secure two offers. One of the offers was in industry and the second was at a research university.

The university job was not the University of Florida and therefore, this was not my dream job.  Nonetheless, it was a faculty position at a research one university. Unfortunately, the salary was low and the research facilities were subpar.

In contrast, the job in industry appeared to offer great promise. The job was to establish and direct, a new research and development division of a large, privately owned company that was growing by leaps and bounds.

All predictions were that this company would continue to flourish and would become a publically traded company within five years. The facilities and research start-up funds in the industry job were outstanding. The salary for the industry job was more than double the pay of the university position. Moreover, I was promised future stock options that could be extremely valuable when the business went public.

It was a tough decision. I knew that I was passionate about research but, both jobs offered the opportunity to perform research. However, I was also excited about teaching and I genuinely desired to work with both undergraduate and graduate students. Further, I wanted to be free to drive my research agenda in any direction that I became excited about, and the university job provided this opportunity.

After several sleepless nights, I decided to accept the position at the university. I am so glad that I did.

I followed my heart and have enjoyed every day of my academic career. In fact, I love my job so much that I would do this work for free-however, I don’t work for free – I tricked someone into paying me! Thank you President Fuchs.

And if you are wondering about what happened to the company that offered me the position-well, the company, Nike, did OK. The individual that accepted the job that I turned down eventually become president of Nike and owns homes around the world including a house on the French Rivera.

Do I have regrets? Absolutely not. I don’t speak French and if I don’t live on the French Rivera. But I feel I did even better.

I followed my heart. I immersed myself in research that has helped people. I mentored students who became great scientists and good friends. I get to speak with you today. I cannot think of any other place that I would rather be than speaking to you, at the University of Florida.

So, graduates, above all else, choose a career path that you are passionate about.

This gets me to my second story, which is about having the endurance to achieve your professional dreams. I learned about the importance of endurance early in my life because I was a middle distance runner on my high school track team.

Unfortunately, like many successful high school athletes that later compete in university sports, my talent (or lack thereof) relegated me to become a mediocre college distance runner.

Nonetheless, being an average runner in college was valuable for several reasons. First, I learned that working hard is essential if you want to be the best that you can be. No question, success in any endeavor requires hard labor and to achieve this success, you will need endurance.

Another valuable lesson that I gathered from athletics was that being an average runner provided me the opportunity to discover my professional craving.

My field of research and teaching is exercise physiology, and I became enthusiastic about studying exercise physiology because I wanted to understand the biological explanation for why other athletes were able to beat me on the track.

As it turns out, the answer to this question was very simple. That is, if you want to become a world class endurance athlete, you need to choose your parents very wisely!

No question, genetics plays an essential role in becoming an elite athlete. And while I was very fortunate to have wonderful parents that supported and encouraged me to pursue my dreams, neither of my parents were world class endurance athletes.  And consequently, neither was I!

Participating in distance running provided me with another gift. This additional bonus was that as a student of exercise physiology, I learned about the positive impact that life-long exercise has on maintaining good health. Indeed, regular exercise is the only health behavior that has been scientifically demonstrated to reduce all-cause mortality in humans.

For example, regular exercise reduces the risk of developing heart disease, type II diabetes, and numerous types of cancers.

Therefore, I encourage each of you to learn more about the health benefits of exercise and to engage in some form of enjoyable physical activity on a daily basis. The good news is that by marching into this ceremony, you have already performed a portion of today’s exercise prescription.

My third and final story focuses upon the importance that failure plays in advancing your career.

Yes, failing is important. I personally, have experienced failure numerous times throughout my career.

For example, I have written grants that did not receive a fundable score. I have also authored research papers that were criticized during peer review. However, each of these failures have been important to my career because with each failure, I learned from my mistakes and worked to correct the shortcoming.

Failure also builds resilience. The more we fail, the more resilient we become and, the more knowledge that we gain from this failure. Every failure is a step toward success.

Here’s another example of how the knowledge gained from failure can lead to success. The Nobel Prize winning scientist, Linus Pauling, published a notoriously incorrect structure of DNA, two months prior to the correct structure being published by Watson and Crick. Pauling’s response to this failure was ingenious. He told colleagues that the best way to have good ideas, is to have lots of ideas, and throw away the bad ones. This is yet, another excellent example of how failure leads to success. 

Let me close by reminding you that today is a day of celebration. A day for each of you to celebrate the fact that your hard work and dedication got you to this moment.

Today is also a day to give thanks. Thanks to the many people that helped you reach your goal of completing your doctorate. So I encourage you to take the time to thank your family, your friends, your teachers, and to your graduate school mentors for their support during your educational journey at the University of Florida.

Remember that your time is limited, so don’t waste it doing something you are not enthusiastic about. Also, remember that you are in control of your life-through choices and decisions.

So, find your passion, have the endurance to pursue this craving, and don’t be afraid of failure. Indeed, failure is nothing more than an opportunity to learn and improve.

Thank you all very much. Congratulations and Go Gators!

UF News May 3, 2019