by Warren Weaver--From a talk given in Seattle, 1966

One of the great prerogatives of age is the right to give adivce to the young. Of course, the other side of the coin is that one of the prerogatives of youth is to disregard this advice. But . . . I am going to give you four pieces of advice, and you may do with all four of them precisely what you see fit.

The first one is this: I urge each one of you not to decide prematurely what field of science, what speciality of science you are going to make your own. Science moves very rapidly. Five years from now or ten years from now there will be opportunities in science which are almost not discernible at the present time. And, I think there are also, of course, fads in science. Science goes all out at any one moment for work in one certain direction and the other fields are thought of as being rather old-fashioned. But don't let that fool you. Sometimes some of these very old problems turn out to be extremely significant.

May I just remind you that there in no physical entity that the mind of man has thought about longer than the phenomenon of light. One would ordinarily say that it would be simply impossible at the present day for someone to sit down and get a brand new idea about light, because think of the thousands of scientists that have worked on that subject. And yet, you see this is what two scientists did only just a few years ago when the laser was invented. They got a brand new idea about light and it has turned out to be a phenomenally important idea.

So, I urge you not to make up your minds too narrowly, too soon. Of course, that means that what you ought to do is to be certain that you get a very solid basic foundation in science so that you can then adjust yourselves to the opportunities of the future when they arise. What is that basic foundation? Well, of course, you don't expect me to say much more than mathematics, do you? Because I was originally trained as a mathematician and mathematics is certainly at the bottom of all this. But I also mean the fundamentals of physics and the fundamentals of chemistry. These two, incidentally, are almost indistinguishable nowadays from the fundamentals of biology.

The second piece of advice that I will just mention to you because maybe some of you are thinking too exclusively in terms of a career in research. In my judgment there is no life that is possible to be lived on this planet that is more pleasant and more rewarding than the combined activity of teaching and research.

I hope very much that many of you look forward to becomming teachers. It is a wonderful life. I don't know of any better one myself, any more pleasant one, or any more rewarding one. And the almost incredible fact is that they even pay you for it. And, nowadays, they don't pay you too badly. Of course, when I started they didn't. But, nowadays, the pay is pretty good.

My third piece of advice--may I urge every single one of you to prepare yourself not only to be a scientist, but to be a scientist-citizen. You have to accept the responsibilities of citizenship in a free democracy. And those are great responsibilities and because of the role which science plays in our modern world, we need more and more people who understand science but who are also sensitive to and aware of the responsibilities of citizenship.

And the final piece of advice is--and maybe this will surprise you: Do not overestimate science, do not think that science is all that there is, do not concentrate so completely on science that there's nobody in this room who is going to spend the next seven days without reading some poetry. I hope that there's nobody in this room that's going to spend the next seven days without listening to some music, some good music, some modern music, some music. I hope very much that there's nobody here who is not interested in the creative arts, interested in drama, interested in dance. I hope that you interest yourselves seriously in religion, because if you do not open your minds and open your activities to this range of things, you are going to lead too narrow a life.