Spring 2019 Ph.D. Keynote – Bonnie Ferri, Ph.D.

Spring 2019 Ph.D. Keynote – Bonnie Ferri, Ph.D.


(applause)
– Good morning. I’m so delighted to be here celebrating this wonderful day with you. We’re a lot alike, you and I. It’s the color of these robes
and all that it represents. It was 30 years ago, I sat
in this very auditorium waiting to walk across this stage to be hooded by my advisor. Today, I stand here, as an advisor, waiting to hood my own student. Hey Michael!
(audience laughter) I remember as a graduate student
at Georgia Tech so fondly. Sure, I worried about
passing the qualifying exam. Actually, I don’t think I got more than two hours of sleep the night
before, I was just so nervous. But, once you pass the qualifying
exams and your courses, graduate school can be pretty interesting. You get to spend all of your time thinking about things
and trying new things. Grad school was where I learned to be independent, and
innovative, and resourceful. It’s where I learned
the satisfaction and joy of being a researcher. Today, you will leave here
with your hard-earned degree. So it’s time to pause and
contemplate your career paths. There’s this statistic from
the World Economic Forum, predicting that today’s graduates, will have more than 15
jobs in their lifetimes. What does that mean for you as a Ph.D? My own career journey started with a job working as an engineer in industry. I got to work on the space
shuttle flight controls and on a space station project. It was really cool. I know that many of you
also worked in industry. What did you gain from that experience? I learned professionalism and
responsibility and discipline. But most importantly, I
learned what it was like to work on a team towards a common goal. Not on an individual project, but it was in the very
fabric of the culture. That time in industry left
a lasting impression on me. My next job was in academia. I became a faculty member
in electrical engineering here at Tech immediately
after finishing my Ph.D. How many of you are planning
to go into academia? (applause from the crowd) You will spend many years balancing research, teaching and service. Recall what I said about
15 jobs in your lifetime? In a research position, this might mean changing focus and direction of your work. For example, I learned a lot about computer science to go from being an electrical engineer
to a computer engineer. And then I went even further when I started doing work
in engineering education. That’s basically behavioral science. What an eye opener! To go from understanding
how technology interacts to how people interact. Another career shift will
come for those of you who want to go into management or become a project
director, or administrators. My background in engineering
and in behavioral science set me up for administrative jobs. My first one was as associate
chair for graduate studies, then I switched to being associate chair for undergraduate studies. Most recently, I became Vice Provost. So my count is seven jobs so far. Along the way, I had three wonderful kids. Some of you have kids now, some
of you are thinkin about it. There’s a whole nother world
out there besides work. Personally I did a stint as
a den mother for Cub Scouts. A Girl Scout leader, a homeroom mom, a science Olympiad
coach, and a whole lot of K through 12 outreach activities. So, depending on how you count it, that could be several more jobs. Considering the career shifts that I made, there’s some advice that
I’d like to share with you. Most important, is to be
willing to challenge yourself and to be willing to shift
into new areas of specialty. It may feel, sort of like
starting a Ph.D. all over again. You may feel vulnerable, trading
your expertise in one area to become a learner or
apprentice in another. What does that look like? Well for me, I read, take online courses, enroll in workshops, I even
sat in on a few courses while I was a professor here. Mostly, I talked to other
people with different expertise, to get their perspectives, or to help me clarify my understanding. As a student, you may
have been comfortable going to ask professors
for help on your research. After today, you will be a colleague. And it may feel a little bit more awkward to ask for help from fellow
researchers but do it anyway. If you can keep expanding
what’s in your wheelhouse, you’ll be more adaptable
to changing times. And even more so, if you can
keep the joy of learning alive life is just so much more fun. For example, I learned something recently that was really inspirational. You and I, we know a lot about innovation. By it’s very nature, the
Ph.D. is about being creative. There’s a company called
IDEO that developed a Venn diagram that
describes the conditions for sustainable and impactful innovation. The first circle in the
diagram is desirability. What do we want?
What do we need? What should we do? This circle embodies the fields of ethics and humanities and social
sciences and design. Desirability.
The second circle is feasibility. What can we do?
How could we make this? How can we solve this? How can we understand this? This circle represents
engineering, science and computing. Engineering, science, and
yeah, computing: feasibility. The last circle is viability. How can we make it
sustainable, marketable? This covers the fields of
policy and business: viability. Ideas born at the intersection of desirability, feasibility, and viability are more sustainable and impactful. Said another way: the intersection of the humanities and sciences
with business and technology is the sweet spot for innovation. This is where Georgia Tech lives. And this intersection is where I’d like all of us to strive to move. Not just to be able to solve problems, but being able to identify what
problems need to be solved. Perhaps we all can’t be
adept at all three areas but we can learn to talk and
work across disciplinary lines. Appreciating what people from
each area brings to the table. To me, stretching my mind
into these disciplines that are so different
from my formal training, has been so rewarding to me. Not only intellectually,
but it has enabled my career to move forward and made me more effective in what I do. Always learn and be agile enough to pivot directions as needed
or as your interests vary. Open your mind to new perspectives from different fields of thought. Cross those disciplinary boundaries. Finally, Georgia Tech would
love to be partners with you, now and as you progress
through your careers. We would love for you to return and give back to future students. Give seminars, judge events, be a mentor. And support future Ph.D. students. But are goal is that we, Georgia Tech will be there for you as well. A place where you can attend
lectures and workshops. Take courses and learn new fields. A place where we can support you. Not just through seven career changes like I made, but 15 as predicted. It’s a new era for us. You as graduate alums and we the faculty and administrators here. Building a bridge, a partnership that will last throughout your lives. This partnership is at the heart of the creating the next-in-education
initiatives here. These initiatives strive for a lifetime commitment to you, wherever you live. I hope that you work with
us to create that future. But let’s start thinking and planning about that future tomorrow.
Today, is a day to celebrate your
tremendous accomplishments. We the faculty are so very proud of you for earning Georgia Tech’s highest degree. Congratulations fellow
Ph.D. alums of Georgia Tech. Thank you.
(crowd applause)

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