The first-ever Global Meeting of the Schmidt Science Fellows took place in Oxford, UK, in July and August 2018. For Dr Ryan Truby, 2018 Schmidt Science Fellow, it was a formative experience.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” My time in Oxford this past summer for the Schmidt Science Fellows’ first-ever Global Meeting was marked by countless ‘What! You too?’ moments with the other 13 phenomenal scientists in my cohort. These moments were essential in helping me reflect on the themes of our Meeting and make the most of our time together.
It’s no understatement to say that the Oxford Global Meeting was one of the most formative experiences I’ve had. It’d be an even greater understatement to say that I was a little nervous the entire summer coming into it!
Finding out I was selected as a Schmidt Science Fellow last April left me both ecstatic and in complete disbelief about the extraordinary opportunity before me. But, anxieties for my eminent fellowship year quickly dissipated. I wondered: could I achieve what was expected of me? What was seen in me, when the other Schmidt Science Fellows were so impressive? And, was I taking the best new directions for my research? My nervousness was never greater than on the first morning and formal opening of our Global Meeting. Diving into our first of many roundtable and small-group discussions together revealed that I was not alone in my angst. ‘What! You too?’ and ‘I’m not the only one!’ moments filled my first day, and I learned that other Fellows were reconciling enthusiasm and uneasiness like me.
I found – and I think I can safely say that we all shared – a sense of comfort knowing that we were all in the same boat regarding our thoughts leading into this incredible Fellowship.
That helped us quickly find common ground on which to start our Fellowships together and empowered me to full-heartedly embrace my new colleagues. That was especially important for me as the Global Meeting went on. Our agenda was packed with eye-opening activities that exposed us to, and gave us actionable experience on, key concepts related to leadership and ambition in science. With distinguished leaders across government, business, and academia leading our sessions, each day yanked me ever further from my comfort zone.
Again, I wasn’t alone. ‘What! You too?’ gave way to disclosures like, ‘I felt the same way in that session’ with the other Fellows, and our collective conversations started reaching more personal levels. We felt comfortable asking each other ‘What do you think of this?’ or ‘What is your opinion on that?’, and our activities catalyzed discussions that went far beyond the day’s end. Many of the deeper conversations I had in Oxford – particularly those spurred by our sessions on morals, leadership, and risk – generated thoughts I’m still reflecting on today.
Throughout our meeting, we were often reminded of the great accomplishments of legendary Oxford scientists. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the words of C.S. Lewis – albeit a famed literary Oxford mind – best illustrate the most important part of the Global Meeting for me. That is, through mutual realization of our individual hopes and reservations for our Fellowship Year and understanding of our takeaways from the meeting, we were able to begin building our community. By realizing that we’re all on this journey together, the Schmidt Science Fellows left Oxford not just as colleagues, but also as new friends.