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How we treat our talents today will define our tomorrow

Minister for Higher Education and Science Søren Pind's speech at Novo Scholarship Symposium 14 november 2017.

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Thank you for the invitation to participate today. It’s always a pleasure to meet the talents of tomorrow. I’m very impressed by the projects I just saw at the exhibition.

Although they made me a bit anxious: Suddenly I’ve become aware of all the health problems out there that I might potentially suffer from. But at least if I stick to reading only the titles of the projects I don’t understand any of it ...

The Polish girl

Anyway. I would like to tell you a story. It’s about a girl born 150 years ago, in November 1867, in Poland.

Maria, as she’s called, does very well in school, she loves science and dreams of continuing her studies at university. But she can’t get admitted because the university in Warsaw is “men only”. And her family is poor so she can’t afford a private teacher.

Maria has an older sister, Bronislawa, and they both dream of going to the Sorbonne University in Paris where women are accepted. So they make a pact: They will help each other out.

First, Bronislawa will go to Paris for two years while Maria stays home in Warsaw working as a governess to pay for her sister’s studies. And then they will switch.

But Bronislawa breaks her part of the deal. Why? The good old story: Girl goes to Paris, falls in love and marries.

So Maria has to stay in Warsaw earning money for her own studies as well. Two years turns to five. And in 1891, 24 years old, finally, she enters the Sorbonne’s bright limestone buildings. And if you haven’t been there: Go there. It’s an absolutely wonderful place.

Her funds are limited, though. She survives on a diet of tea and buttered baguettes. As you probably know better than I: Not quite a healthy diet. So she’s often sick. But she completes her studies and in 1893, 26 years old, Maria earns a master in physics. The following year she earns another degree in mathematics.

Nine years later in 1903, she becomes the first woman to win the Nobel Prize. Later on in 1911, she becomes the first scientist to win two Nobel Prizes: One in physics, one in mathematics.

The Polish girl, Maria, of course, is Marie Curie, as she’s called later on, after she marries in France.

Great talents should be lifted up

So why am I telling you this story?

Well, usually I say that young people today are having too easy a time. That they need to experience what it’s like to really fight for something. That they need more challenge. “It has to be hard”.

But I mean academic challenge. I don’t mean the kind of obstacles Marie Curie faced.

She was, luckily, endowed with true grit. But don’t you wonder how her story would have played out if she had been lifted up rather than pushed down?

It’s crucial to scientific progress that we give the gifted minds the opportunity to unfold their talents.

Because how we treat our talents today will define our tomorrow. Science and education is the passport to the future. Especially in a knowledge-based economy like the Danish one.

Better conditions for high performing students

Much have happened since Marie Curie’s time. You’re living in a generous society where university – at least here – is free, and on top of that you have public support for students.

A university degree is within reach whether you’re man or woman, rich or poor, from capital or country side.

Still, the system is not perfect. Are we doing enough to nurture the Marie Curies of our day?

Are you given the best opportunities to realize your talents? Do we reward you with the freedom necessary to unfold your capacities?

I think we could do more. I think our educational system here could be better at challenging.

I think we could be better at rewarding your devotion with liberty. Liberty to pursue your passions.

I want to see what happens when talent is set free.

And we’re working on a plan to do that in the ministry, which we expect to put forward next year.

The Novo contribution

I am very happy that Novo Nordisk and Novozymes have long recognized the need to support and cherish our prodigies.

I would like to thank Novo Nordisk and Novozymes for their investments in our country’s “knowledge pool”.

Thank you for helping our young talents forward. They – like companies such as you – are the key to our future growth and success as a country.

And to you 28 young people – the scientists of tomorrow: You’re about to embark on a journey that might change the lives of many people.

Maybe one of you will find the next big solution for how farmers can grow more and better crops with fewer pesticides and fertilizers. That would be important to my party. In turn feeding a growing world population.

Maybe one of you will find a way to prevent strokes and heart failures.

Or maybe one of you will even find a cure for diabetes.

I wish you all the best. And I hope only your talent and grit will set the bar.

Still, remember to have some fun along the way. As Marie Curie said:

“A scientist in his laboratory – or hers – is not a mere technician. He is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales.”

I wish you all the best of luck. And I thank you for your attention.

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last modified November 03, 2023