Astrophysicist James Negus of the University of Colorado shared a captivating message with Salt Lake Community College students and faculty during the morning session of the sixth annual Bruins Brains Undergraduate Research Conference, presented by TRIO Programs, on Friday at Taylorsville Redwood Campus.
After discussing his research regarding supermassive black holes, Negus talked about his academic journey to impart wisdom on young students, such as those in attendance. The message that resonated most to the audience was to accept failure, take it on the chin and move forward.
“Fail early and often,” Negus said.
An example he gave to illustrate this point was showing the crowd a copy of his first research paper, which was riddled with mistakes. Negus even admitted he did not know what most of the acronyms he used in the paper meant.
“Failures don’t define you,” he said. “They’re a chance to identify your strengths and weaknesses early.”
Meghan Harding, an undecided major at SLCC, found inspiration in Negus’ determination.
“I was really inspired by how he was able to keep going,” she said. “He kept himself surrounded by what inspired him, and that’s what got him to keep going and push forward.”
In addition to his advice that students should get numb to failure, Negus also discussed imposter syndrome, noting that many undergraduate students regularly tell him they don’t deserve a doctorate. While addressing this concern, he stressed the importance of mentorship while attending school and acknowledged he wouldn’t be where he is today without his mentor.
“Inadequacy will kill more dreams than you can imagine,” Negus said.
Coming from parents that did not prioritize education, Negus’ story gave hope to first-generation college students like Kenny Bustamante, an economics student at SLCC.
“Since he has a background coming nowhere and made it, that means I can make it too,” he said. “That’s very helpful because I’m so confused with what I’m doing.”
For students like Bustamante who do not have their passion clearly defined, Negus suggested taking a wide variety of classes and exploring all the options available to students.
Negus also highlighted the need for diversity in the research field.
“Academia needs you,” Negus said. “We really need to diversify the system. We need more voices in the room. Wherever you are, don’t give up; it’s just a temporary situation.”
Watch the entire conference below: