Today's Scientists on Wabash

WM asked several prominent science graduates to comment on the pros and cons of their education. Here is a sample of their comments.

Tom Roberts ’70, research group leader, Dana Farber Cancer Research Center, Harvard:

“When I got to Harvard for graduate school, I was apprehensive, but when I got my first tests back, the scores were OK. I realized that Wabash had done a very good job of teaching not just facts, but the scientific principles which underlie the facts.

“I wasn’t very well prepared in terms of experiments which had been done recently, but you can always learn that. Wabash had done a very good job of teaching me how to think.”

Rick Dahlquist ’64, chairman, chemistry department, University of Oregon:

“A place like the University of Oregon has things that Wabash won’t have. Oregon is a better representation of what the profession is like. Students get an edge in learning to do research at Oregon.

“But the standards are higher and the classes are infinitely better at Wabash. For the most part, research is the thing the faculty is passionate about at a big school. We would like to believe that all our teachers are fabulous, but it’s a not very well kept secret that if you are a mediocre teacher but a fabulous researcher, you can get tenure at a big school.

“The other thing that isn’t available at Wabash is a wide variety of courses. But science is about thinking, not about facts. So the really terrific but relatively limited undergraduate classes I took were all that I needed to know. If I had to do it over again, I’d go to Wabash.”

Geoffrey Coates ’89, professor of chemistry, Cornell Univerity:

“I was really worried going off to graduate school at Stanford that there would be students from Harvard and MIT with much better backgrounds than me. We also had students from Middlebury, Oberlin, and Grinnell. It seemed to me that students from the liberal arts colleges had a better background and better grasp of the material. What was really clear was that we had a laboratory background that was superior to that of a lot of the big schools.

“Probably the hardest part of my job is managing my research group. One of the really strong aspects of Wabash is that it’s a very social college. You learn how to interact with other people—to be respectful of other people’s opinions, and to express your own opinions to the group.”

Tom Emmick ’62, retired vice-president for research, Eli Lilly, Inc.:

“The preparation I had at Wabash for graduate school was excellent,” he said. “We had seven or eight chemistry majors in my class. All but one has a Ph.D.

“I learned to understand people, hear all viewpoints, and make good decisions. Whether that was gotten in the classroom, or fraternities, or athletics, the ability to work with others through a team effort was obviously key to me because I spent many, many years in management.”

Emory Simmons ’41, mycologist, retired head of mycology, U.S. Army Natick Research:

“One of the great points of our training was that it was so broad that you could jump from one viewpoint to another. We were exposed to a large range of factual material. Today’s students are so much more advanced in their training when they hit Wabash than my generation was, but they may be too advanced too early. If they have to switch fields, they may not be able to pick up a new field because the broad background isn’t there.”

Steve Hildebrand ‘66, Director of the Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratories:

Laboratory, expert in the identification of microscopic fungi “The things you’re exposed to in a good liberal arts education are definitely an asset in scientific leadership positions. A liberal arts background brings a lot to the table—for instance, if you are working with academic panels to determine future scientific initiatives, communicating with lay audiences, or working with people from different scientific or ethnic cultures.”