Peter Girguis, Ph.d.
Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
Adjunct Research Engineer, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Adjunct Oceanographer, Applied Ocean Engineering and Physics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
He says he wasn't much of a student, but now he leads a laboratory at Harvard University.
Hyperlexia is a super-interest in letters and numbers, leading to advanced reading for someone’s age; it may be linked with an autistic spectrum disorder. “I would definitely say I had a mild case,” says Pete, adding,“The thing is, I was such a little anxious young person that anything I equated with schooling made me uncomfortable. And I definitely had some crummy teachers. And one thing I tell people now and remind them is I was by no means a model student, I was so far from a model student, all the way through my sophomore year as an undergraduate.”
Pete says, “People tend to assume that these ages of legality, 18, 21, are benchmarks for their scholarship.” They’re not, they’re artificial.” They were contrived at a time when we were a more agrarian society. So it’s like an artifact of a different time, that’s why we have summers off, so you could deal with the harvest. We need to convey to students in some way that just because your public or private education ends in the 12th grade at the age of 18 doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that at the time the United States government said, you're on your own. That’s all it means, where is it written that you’re supposed to know everything but the time it’s done?
Pete often works aboard E/V Nautilus, a science exploration ship. High school students, undergraduates, early career, and advanced scientists are part of Nautilus's Corps of Explorers, which includes remote-operated vehicle pilots in training, videographers-in-training, and other roles for young people. For more next steps, CLICK here.
So if we could tell young people, if your junior or senior year you felt like you finally came to understand who you are and who you want to be, that is okay, and that’s why the community college is in my opinion totally undervalued. Take the time you need, take the time you need! I took 5 years for my undergraduate.
Believing people should take whatever path they want to get where they’re going, Pete tells the story of one of his best students, a grad student now in her mid-thirties. “She’s a full 12 years, maybe 13 years, older than her peers. She dropped out of high school and she worked as a land surveyor and a bartender and a roadie with a band. Then she thought she wanted to be a nurse, so she went to a community college. She hated it and dropped out again. Then maybe about 10 years ago in her late 20s she went back to school to get her bachelor’s, beginning with community college, then moving to UMass Boston. There she worked there with two deep-sea biologists, who called Pete. They said, ‘Jessie is looking to go to graduate school, we think you would make a great fit and you should do everything in your power to hire her.’" And he did.
I ask people what they think it would be like to sail on a boat full of Ph.D.’s The response — a bunch of geeks, ha ha, I’d be intimidated. I said I would never step foot on the boat. Ph.D’s in the engine room, on the bridge, etc.? The boat would sink. We scientists are trained for a specific role on the ship, in the lab, or in the lecture room. It’s not a hierarchy. It’s a front of people moving forward to advancing on our understanding. It takes all kinds. The steward, the oiler, the navigator are all important. What matters is that if this floats your boat there are lots of ways to take your talents and make a contribution.
Questions for Pete:
Middle graders interview Peter Girguis for a YouTube show, Exploring the Deep Sea with Dr. Peter Girguis here.