Inspired by UCalgary’s HD receipient – Dr. Ralph Brinster

Myself and HD recipient Dr. Brinster having a quick chat prior to Thursday afternoon's convocation ceremony.

Myself and HD recipient Dr. Brinster having a quick chat prior to Thursday afternoon’s convocation ceremony.

I noted in yesterday’s guest blog that Phil Tuck considered his most satisfying work as a Senator to have been his role in the awarding of honorary degrees. I concur. I very much enjoy meeting and hearing from distinguished world citizens who share their life journeys and stories of accomplishments with our young graduands at convocation.

At today’s convocation ceremony for graduates in Medicine, Law, Veterinary Medicine and Graduate Studies, the University of Calgary awarded an honorary degree to Dr. Ralph Brinster of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Brinster is regarded as the founder of the field of mammalian transgenesis. In other words, he has spent his career studying and manipulating the germline cells (sperm and eggs) of mouse embryos. These are the cells that carry the genetic code and program of life from one generation to the next.

Ralph’s work has had many practical clinical applications. For instance, his laboratory developed the techniques which became the foundation for human in vitro fertilization. Millions of babies have been born to otherwise infertile couples thanks to the research of Dr. Brinster. And methods that were developed in his laboratory pioneered the role that stem cells would eventually play in human medicine.

Ralph’s convocation address was eloquent. He spoke from the heart and without notes. When he spoke of his pioneering discoveries in germline modifications, he shone the spotlight on his talented and hard-working colleagues. When he spoke with pride of the career accomplishments of his four children, he credited his wife Elaine “who did most of the heavy lifting.” He came across as a humble man – a sign of a great leader.

Ralph shared his five-point strategy for success with our graduands:

  1. establish the objective
  2. identify your resources
  3. develop a plan
  4. work relentlessly, and
  5. hope for some luck.

Ralph considers the fourth point as most important. At the start of some of his research programs, the means to implement the programs were not clear. Ralph advises us to divide an action plan into a series of pieces, then “grind out” the pieces one by one, and “never give up”.

I agree with Phil Tuck. The awarding of honorary degrees has also been one of the fulfilling aspects of my role as Chancellor. The opportunity to meet and learn from people of the caliber of Dr. Ralph Brinster is a privilege.

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