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About Sickkids
About SickKids

November 4, 2015

Colonel Chris Hadfield inspires SickKids trainees to reach for the stars

By Kayla Redstone

Colonel Chris Hadfield speaking to the research trainees.
Colonel Chris Hadfield speaking to the research trainees.

Research trainees at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) had an out-of-this-world guest Tuesday afternoon as Colonel Chris Hadfield gave keynote address to the young scientists at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning.

The SickKids Research Training Centre started the Inspire! Speaker Series as a way to encourage young researchers during this pivotal early stage of their careers.  Colonel Hadfield is the first speaker in the series.

“The SickKids trainee community wanted to select someone as their first Inspire! speaker who could make them think big, dream bigger, and aim for the stars. We can’t think of a more fitting person to do that than Colonel Chris Hadfield,” said Dr. Gabrielle Boulianne, Associate Chief of Research Career Development and Director of the Research Training Centre at SickKids.

The former International Space Station commander shared experiences from his time as a young scientist to his life as an astronaut, encouraging budding researchers to always keep self-betterment at the forefront of their work, urging them to think of what they can do in the present to achieve their long-term goals.

“The key is to define perfection for yourself because that helps you decide what to do next. How do you slowly evolve who you are to pursue the things that are in your heart of hearts?” he explained. “You should have an absolute continuous burning hunger to get better at it.”

The astronaut gave a few examples, noting how his goal to eventually work with the Russian space program motivated him to start learning the language in 1993. Twenty years later his hard work paid off when he worked with a Russian astronaut on the International Space Station.

While Colonel Hadfield encouraged perseverance and long-term goal-setting, he also urged trainees to visualize and embrace failure as part of the invention process.

“Whatever you’re testing, you want it to fail early and you want it to fail spectacularly. Early success is a terrible teacher,” he assured.

His messages resonated with the young group of researchers, many of whom are learning from the failures of their own experiments or trying to figure out where to take their careers next.

“What inspired me about his speech was his focus on maintaining a positive outlook, but also maintaining a realistic perspective,” said Sarah Farr, a PhD student who specializes in diabetes research. “He talked a lot about predicting failure and solving problems, which is important for a grad student.”

“I was inspired by the fact that he doesn’t do things for instant gratification, he goes for the long-term goal,” said Kiran Beera, a radiology-oncology graduate student. “For the longest time I thought it was just getting into medicine and research that would be hard and that getting in would be sufficient. But what he told us was to always have another goal in mind.”

Hadfield with guitar
Colonel Chris Hadfield playing guitar for a group in Marnie's Lounge.

Colonel Hadfield also made time before his speech to help inspire an even younger audience—SickKids patients. He appeared on the hospital’s closed-circuit TV show, Kid Science, and later attended a meet and greet in Marnie’s Lounge.

“This visit is a very unique opportunity for children and their families – a special experience that has an element of excitement, as well as great educational impact. Many children were excited because they have learned about space in school, and more specifically about Colonel Hadfield’s time in space,” said Andrea Fretz, Child Life Specialist in Child and Family-Centred Care Programming at SickKids.

The children surprised him with some homemade space cookies while he played them some tunes on the guitar and answered questions about living in space.

“I think he’s really cool and really brave for going up to space,” said Madi Vanstone, SickKids patient. “I came because I wanted to hear him share his stories about being an astronaut and also see the kids in Marnie’s Lounge.”

His message for both audiences was simple: reach for the stars.