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Pam Follett ’82
Follett '82 Addresses Convocation

Pam Follett ’82 spoke to Rensselaer’s newest members at this year’s First-Year Convocation ceremony, held at the Alumni Sports and Recreation Center Aug. 25. Follett is a medical researcher and attending neurologist at Children’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. Children’s Hospital is the primary pediatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. It was named the top pediatric hospital in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in its guide to America’s Best Hospitals—a rank that it has held ever since the magazine first published the ranking 12 years ago.

“New experiences often bring out the competing emotions of fear and excitement,” Follett told the new students. “I hope you are feeling both of these—the fear will give you focus, the excitement will give you energy.”

Borrowing a quote from Jacob Bronowski, author of The Ascent of Man, Follett advised her audience to “ask an impertinent question and you are on your way to a pertinent answer.”

“Good questions aren’t defined by rank and propriety,” said Follett. “It is unfortunate that there are environments where rank is considered more important than science or answers, but I think you will find little of that at RPI.”

Follett said she could thank RPI for her most annoying trait–“drilling in for an answer with all too much intensity and not letting go until I was satisfied. I think this is why I went into neurology—of all the medical disciplines, neurologists thought most like engineers, and I was comfortable with them. With so much unknown about the nervous system, the field attracts explorers and hypothesizers.”

Follett hesitated to offer advice to the new freshmen. Instead, she offered a question: “Why are you here? What do you want from this place?” She encouraged them to discuss it with their friends and colleagues, to ask their professors.

“When you start to see what captivates you, then you can be bold—you can hope and dream great things, because all of your learning will be motivated by the fear and excitement of stretching the limits and exploring what’s new,” Follett said.

“The first thing is to start asking questions. Impertinent ones are welcome here. And be sure to listen and contemplate the answer, because that is the window to the next question. Welcome to RPI.”

Rensselaer Magazine: December 2002
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