Speech: Success and University

As part of the Whakapiki Ake/ Friedlander Program run through the Liggins Education Network, I was asked to say a 10 minute speech to a group of ‘soon to be’ university students predominately of Maori culture ,about success, setting and pursuing goals while providing some sort of inspiration. With topics like these you tend to get run of the mill advice from senior individuals that lack inspiration, motivation and a sense of realism about it , I know I have over my years. So from the start I wanted to make sure that any advice that I was providing addressed these old age problems. This resulted in block of text you see below. Seem I had spent some time compiling this masterpiece (hahah) and the thought that it maybe of use to others outside of my target audience at the time I decided I might as well post it in here. Enjoy.


Jacqui [ director of the  program] approached me last week asking if I would keen say a few words to a group of smart, ’soon to be uni’ students moving into the biomedical/health field, on success and setting goals while trying to inspire them. Other than it sounding quite daunting, obviously this is not something that I do on a day to day basis so I actually had to have a think, sift my way through my past experiences and career to date and pull out bits of advice I believe is off interest to you and you will be able to implement today.

To start off, just a brief background to explain the backbone to how I got here. I was born and bred in Manurewa, attended Hillpark Primary, Alfriston School and then Manurewa High. Throughout my primary and intermediate I wasn’t much of an academic and I was heavily into my sports shooting, soccer, cricket, basketball, swimming. However at high school this switched for some unknown reason. And I got engulfed by science particularly through my teachers, science fairs and the crest program. Every year I submitted a science project, and every year I went to the regional science fair and won a monetary prize. So as a student it actually became my main source of income. Every project always in the biotech category (except my final year which involved having 10 eels swimming in my garage for a week). So I enrolled in BTech in biotech at Auckland Uni. This degree focused on traditional industrial biotech while also teaching a solid foundation in biochem,micro, genetics etc. Moving into my 4th year I undertook a studentship at The Liggins Institute in cancer research even though I had no core cancer education at the tertiary level. After completing my honours also at Liggins I moved onto my PhD in the same area and at present I am still there as a second year PhD student, researching the role of novel genes in the development of breast cancer. Through out university I have got heavily involved with creating the universities entrepreneurship ecosystem. An environment for stimulating new innovative ideas and translating them into products and their respective businesses

Along this path albeit on the early stage of my career I can pick out several points which I believe have some importance for you guys

There are five things: Goals, Success, The evolution of perspective, Getting Involved, Networks


Despite the necessity of setting goals, I’ve never been one for writing down goals and planning how I go about achieving them. I tend to keep them in the form of mental notes that circulate in my brain. Success starts with goals/ ambitions/passions/ things that drive you. You are always told that goals should be S.M.A.R.T. I have a problem with the attainable, achievable, realistic part. It tends to feel like that you are complacent with setting goals that you know you can achieve. How do you ever extend yourself then? Where’s the challenge of actually going after something you don’t know you can get or not? Of course there are goals there to make you feel good about yourself and all fuzzy inside for achieving a goal. But I believe we should be dreaming bigger as you don’t necessarily know what you are capable of until you do push yourself. And on the other hand if you fail, and you are a determined individual it will likely breed future success.

I believe that you should have one large pivotal goal or even your own mission statement so what when people ask you what do you want to do with your life you can say “I am going too….complete at PhD in molecular medicine followed by a business degree, gain a career international career in biobusiness and return to NZ to builds the country’s largest biotech company” (obviously substitute your own wording in) Make sure you say it confidently so instead of instead of laughing at you, it leaves them gobsmacked

Be prepared for your goals change, especially when you launch into a new environment like university. You are in an environment where you are getting feed a lot of information about a lot of new and different subjects so expect your perceptions change.

2:Being Successful

Now when Jacqui mentioned I might want to discuss about being successful. I started doubting myself. How do you measure success? Am I successful? If not, should I actually be giving advice to others ?

So do I consider myself as successful? To answer this question I started to list down some of my main achievements. Head prefect , 2nd dux and $5000 collected from science fairs while at high school, a $35,000 undergraduate scholarship, I attracted $375,000 worth of PhD funding , $15,000 in prize money from university innovation challenges, I have run and chaired Australasia’s leading student biotech initiative of which I have raised 35k/ year over the past 2 years for. In addition I have recently signed a 40K deal and sit on the advisory board of the universities business plan competition and contribute to local biotech strategy. Based on these achievements I consider myself pretty successful SO FAR.

Part of being successful is actually recognising success, especially your own. NZers have a tendency to only giving themselves a silent tap on the back, when nobody is looking. We need to celebrate success as well as our Australian counterparts do. But I think we are well on our way to burying the tall poppy syndrome, its becoming ok to be awesome – corny but true

3:Evolution of perspective

Throughout your schooling life you have been introduce into new environments. For example moving from primary to intermediate, then to secondary and finally tertiary. From student populations of 500 to 2000 to 30000. Every time you move into a new world your perception of how much you believe you can achieve changes. Maybe those goals that you once thought were unachievable; those that weren’t ‘SMART’ get a lot closer to reality. This is due to a number of things

  • You begin to discover the things you are good at, things you are good at you normally like and you continue to invest time in them to get even better
  • You come into contact with other people who are achieving at a very high level. This inspires a ‘me too’ phenomenon i.e. you want to achieve too.
  • You are in an environment where everyone around you is there to learn. You are in a situation where the responsibility of your education falls with only you. No more spoon feeding.

Your goals begin to grow in scale as you begin to realise your own potential. Maybe at secondary school your goal was to simply get into university and undertake a BSc. Entering university this perception evolves and you begin to think on a larger scale. Now that BSc objective becomes a cancer biology specialisation followed by an international doctorate as you seek to develop yourself into a world leading cancer scientist. So prepare yourself for changes, not only for dreaming bigger but for more focused and potentially in a new directors. A typical mentality that I have come across that limits how much you believe you can achieve is the ‘I’m too busy’ mindset. Don’t get me wrong, university will redefine what it means to be busy. However it is not until you meet someone busier than yourself, do you realise how much more you could be doing with your time at university. Being able to do more with your university time will be the most important thing you do. By this I mean venturing outside the core of what the university offers i.e. going to lectures and studying. This is simply one part (albeit the main one) of the University’s learning environment. These outside experiences hold hidden but significant value for your careers.

4:Get Involved

More and more people are going to university meaning that more people coming out with higher qualifications. There is now the need more than ever to put yourself ahead of the competition i.e. other students in your same field of study. Make yourself stand out. This could be as simple as playing a sport, joining a student organisation or undertaking a summer internship (note – these are ‘outside experiences’). Getting high grades isn’t the pinnacle of education now. A degree simply provides a tick in a box. It might get you in the door of a job interview, but the sport team you were on at uni or the organisation you were involved in will seal the deal, differentiate yourself! Increase your ability to sell yourself. If you’re smart – then you will graduate and have a wonderful career. If you’re smart and get involved – you are a force to be reckoned with. Every bit extra you do counts. You guys here as part of the Whakapikai Freilander Programme. You are 30 of 50000 students. This is 1 point in your favour. Put it on your CV!

5:NetworksGet to know people. The world is a small place, Auckland is even smaller

Do you know the popular saying ‘People with A’s end up working for the people that get C’s’. This is due to networks. Networks have the ability to catalyse/fast track your career, bypass red tape and find the people you need to be interacting with quickly. When you meet someone, keep in mind you are not just meeting one person but you are actually getting access to that one person’s entire network. In facebook, bebo or myspace terms that may be 300+ friends. In fact these social networking sites make money off your network. At leading US universities it is these networks that can launch you into success. Successful companies are created simply by linking up with a couple of classmates over a beer. In my own personal experiences I have been consciously building my networks particularly in the local biotechnology industry. I make sure I attend industry events as often as I can just so I can meet people and they can meet me.

Closing Notes:

  1. Build your network : Buy a random person a beer @ the student bar and add a friend on Facebook
  2. Keep your grades high. But explore the other things the university has to offer
  3. Don’t work towards a job, work towards a passion. Create a career around it
  4. UPSIZE your current goals
  5. Uni is all about opportunity, don’t wait, create your own opportunities


Graeme @ graemefielder.com


2 responses to “Speech: Success and University

  1. Hi Graeme – I bumped into your blog after searching “tall poppy syndrome” on google. I agree that NZers need to be more accepting of “high achievers” . I was recently teaching in Korea and realised that Korean (+Asian culture) is always heading towards “gold” and “1st place” – they don’t like being average. That probably explains China & Korea’s Olympic medal count.

    When I was attending high school – the kids never liked the “geeks” or the “high achieving sports kids”- the word “geek”, “nerd” & “hard-worker” was a turn-off at my school (I’m glad that my school wasn’t the only place like that in NZ)

    However, I’m now on a reasonable salary with a stable job while others are losing jobs – it makes sense why I was a hard worker.

    But if it wasn’t for my well-educated parents I probably wouldn’t have the job I have now.. and could have been worse off than the kids who didn’t like “geeks”…

    I agree with NETWORKS – I never really chatted up to people in tutorials/lectures..I was too keen on getting good marks at uni (thinking it was a waste of time) but I realised how important it was in getting jobs.. I ended up teaching english in Korea.. but managed to get a decent job after that. (after some luck)

    I also found a lot of Asian students at uni getting A+’s in commerce but never getting the top jobs simply because they only formed networks within their own circle of friends and never going beyond that… that’s why I think it’s important to 3get 3a diversified amount of people rath3er th3an one ty3pe of background.

    I reckon Auckland Uni is a little hard to make friends in general – big lectures & people coming from all sorts of backgrounds .. kinda hard to open up – but my mistake was not joining any clubs.

    I think you’re going really well mate keep up the blog. Hope lots of students benefit from this.

  2. Hey Eric
    Thanks for your comments
    Yes that kind of mentality is quite widespread, but I believe that it is changing. Money is a common unit of understanding – associating hard working or achievement with increased personal wealth tends to be a great way to modify peoples perspectives 🙂

    I know what you mean about Auckland. People do tend to stay in their ‘degree’ groups or friends from high school. It becomes easy to stay this way as well. Its not until you go out on a limb and force yourself into a completely new environment such as the clubs you speak of.
    Auckland does have a very diverse student body. However this is also a very prominent benefit as well. Once you do break this initial networking barrier you gain access to a very very broad network of people due to their diverse backgrounds. It also has the benefit of exposing you to different perspectives and opinions. In the student organisations that I have been involved with, this is an essential aspect I look at achieving when building a team to lead the organisation.



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