Research Induction Ceremony Marks Formal Beginning to Ph.D. Path

By Amy Widner

It’s a little bit of magic that happens annually at the UAMS Graduate School’s Research Induction Ceremony, when Ph.D. candidates from a variety of disciplines put on the white lab coats that symbolize their dedication to science. Each student is assisted in putting on their white coat by their doctoral dissertation advisers and their graduate program director. Together, they recite the affirmation of scientists before family, friends and peers.

Magical, perhaps, but not simple or easy, Graduate School Dean Robert McGehee Jr., Ph.D., reminded the crowd — and by no means a sure thing. The students who put on their white coats have passed the rigorous pass/fail qualifying exams required by their fields. The ceremony marks their transition from students to researchers who are solidly on their way to earning a Ph.D.

Students and faculty reading aloud

Students and faculty read aloud the Affirmation of Scientists as part of the ceremony.

“This is a challenging journey for them,” McGehee said. “For every seat they’re sitting in, there are at least a dozen, if not 20 people who would love to be sitting in their place.”

Thirty-one students from seven programs participated in this year’s ceremony, which was one of the larger groups in the Graduate School’s history. McGehee said each individual student represents a unique set of circumstances and cast of characters who have helped them along their way. Support is key, and hard work and dedication are a part of each successful story.

“None of them could do this without you, their families, backing them up,” McGehee said.

McGehee at the podium

Graduate School Dean Robert McGehee Jr., Ph.D., welcomes family, friends, peers and mentors to the ceremony.

McGehee said that science moves slowly and is time-intensive. At times, family and friends may feel like they don’t see their loved one very much as they are hard at work on their Ph.D.

“These things take a lot of time, and these students you’re here supporting are a part of that slow process of science,” McGehee said. “It’s really the quest for the unknown, finding the building blocks of the discoveries of the future and pushing the envelope.”

McGehee encouraged the students to value their relationship with their mentor, which, he said, “if it’s done right, it’s a bond that lasts for a very long time.” He also told the students to lean on each other for support.

And ultimately, he told them to trust in the scientific process, which often includes dead ends and setbacks.

Student and supporter taking selfie

Supporters celebrate the students’ successes during a reception after the ceremony.

“If it’s too easy, you’re not asking the right questions,” McGehee said. “But you will ask the right questions. You’ll go down some wrong paths. It’ll take a lot of intellectual horsepower and the support of mentors, family and peers, but when you get there, it will all be worth it.”

The Research Induction Ceremony was the ninth of its kind at UAMS. It was held in the I. Dodd Wilson Education Building first floor auditorium and was followed by a reception.

The Affirmation of Scientists calls upon students to think about the honor and integrity of research, and the public trust that should not be violated. It included a pledge to “to seek truth and the advancement of knowledge in all my work, and to become a worthy role model deserving of respect by those who follow me.”