Mats Selen - Acceptance Speech

2015 Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year
Mats Selen
Professor of Physics
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Let me start by thanking CASE and the Carnegie Foundation for this great honor, and for an amazing event here in Washington.

This whole thing proves a theory that I have been living by for a long time, which is that a good way to succeed in life is to work with amazing people. Lucky for me this is easy at the University of Illinois.

I think Katrina just proved that we have fantastic students at the U of I. She's an astronomy grad student at the University of Arizona now, but while we had her as an undergrad at Illinois she was in charge of the Physics Van outreach program for a couple of years.

The Physics Van is probably the thing I brag about the most, which sort of proves my "work with amazing people" theory.

I have many fantastic colleagues—people that are just as deserving of this honor as I am. The University of Illinois is actually an amazing institution that encourages and rewards precisely the things that this award recognizes. If I wasn't working there, I wouldn't be standing here.

In fact I have had great teachers and mentors throughout my whole career - undergrad, grad, postdoc, faculty - which is my inspiration for trying to be a good teacher and mentor myself.

Teaching is a lot like parenting. We all know that we have to let our kids explore and develop their own understanding of things; that you have to let them learn from their mistakes; and that encouragement and mentoring and structure are really important.

The great thing is that if you replace the word "kids" in that sentence with the word "students", or "graduate students", or "faculty", then its all still true - this is how all human beings learn.

I am very lucky to have had great teachers and mentors. Jack MacDonald and Innes MacKenzie at the University of Guelph. Stew Smith and Art MacDonald at Princeton, Persis Drell and David Cassel at Cornell. Gary Gladding and Tim Stelzer at Illinois. If I am doing anything right its because they showed me how, and my great desire is basically to try and do the same for my own students.

Teaching is a lot like parenting. We all know that we have to let our kids explore and develop their own understanding of things; that you have to let them learn from their mistakes; and that encouragement and mentoring and structure are really important. The great thing is that if you replace the word "kids" in that sentence with the word "students", or "graduate students", or "young faculty", then its all still true—this is how all human beings learn.

I am very lucky to have great parents, and that they are both here today.

My dad taught me to work with my hands and made me believe that I can do anything or build anything if I just set my mind to it.

He didn't really have to say this because that's just how he does things himself—he really CAN do almost anything, so just watching him made me think that I can do anything too.

In my case it's not actually true, of course, but just thinking that its true has given me the confidence to try a lot of things.

My mom taught me to love music and art, and that one of the greatest things in life is to sit quietly and read a good book.

My kids actually turned out pretty great. Two of them—Cathy and Allie—are here today, even though they should probably be at work.

I really do need to thank all four of my kids for being great guinea pigs all these years.

As you can probably tell, I really love my job. So, most important of all, I want to thank my wonderful wife Lyn for making we want to leave work and come home at night.