I was lucky enough to catch wind of a Dr. Jane Goodall lecture put on by my former university. I knew Dr. Goodall was an expert in primatology and a legend in chimpanzee research, but I had never heard her speak before. Since I’m mostly from the medical field, I didn’t know much more about her and would have let the opportunity slide. I had been feeling pretty low about my own research endeavors lately and the last thing I wanted to hear about was a Ph.D. success story, let alone the Jane Goodall story.
She was scheduled to give a lecture followed by a book signing. Upon hearing this, my husband, a former wildlife biologist, hijacked my alumni identity and signed us up before I could protest. This lecture was only open to those affiliated with the university, so hubby couldn’t go without me. Finally, after all the “please donate” harassment, there was a perk to being alumni….for my husband at least. So Friday night found us standing outside in the rain waiting to be let in to the lecture venue. The night was not off to a good start.
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised. Jane Goodall is an excellent speaker and story teller. Of course, my husband had told me this, but I figured he was biased, still being a wildlife biologist at heart. I had expected her talk to be more chimpanzee research oriented, but it wasn’t. She talked about hope, inspiration and humanity, topics I think everyone in the audience could relate to and some of which (hope and inspiration) I was severely lacking. She spoke of her mother who encouraged her curious mind as a child. She told us her inspiration to study chimpanzees was Tarzan and that he had married the wrong Jane. She was funny too. I was more surprised to learn that she didn’t have the money to go to university and it took her years to save enough just to go to Africa. Once in Africa, she convinced the leading primatologist that she should be the one doing his research despite having no degree. She stressed the importance of patience, curiosity, tenacity, and of learning from mistakes. She did eventually go on to get the research qualifications, at Cambridge no less, but she didn’t start until she was 27! I’m 28 and I’m already significantly ahead of where she started. Maybe there is hope for me yet.
What’s the difference between the 1960s Jane and I? She wasn’t going to give up the fight when the going got tough. She was driven by her passion and curiosity to learn more about a developing field. That was originally what drove me. I guessI had lost patience and forgotten somewhere along the way what my reasons for this pursuit were. If I could contribute to my niche a fraction of what she has given to the world, I would be more than satisfied. It’s time to pick up the pieces of my shattered self-esteem and get back to why I started my Ph.D. in the first place.
To remind myself of this, I bought one of her books, Reason for Hope. It’s basically her memoir. I’m hoping that reading it will help keep me optimistic about my future despite how many times I have failed and have yet to fail. By the time I had gotten my book and waited my turn to get Dr. Goodall’s autograph, it was about 10pm. At nearly 80 years old and after traveling, lecturing and meeting fans all day, Dr. Jane was tired to say the least. So I quickly thanked her for the autograph, wished her a happy early birthday and went on my way. I couldn’t speak for the audience, but what I wanted to tell her was that her lecture was a success, I got the message. She reached me and inspired hope where there was none.