Opening up life to endless possibilities is a wise and practical advice from David Madigan

November 10, 2016

Opening up life to endless possibilities is a wise and practical advice from David Madigan, Executive Vice-President for Arts & Sciences, and Dean of Faculty at Columbia University.

Speaking from his own experience, he told young people and students in Beijing lately that it is not easy for them to figure out what they want to do at the start.

“ I got involved in a number of start-ups and worked for companies before settling in my career path as a data scientist," he remembered.

But it is never too late to fulfill one's dream.

He said, "When I decided that I wanted to go back to academia, I was in my forties, I finally figured it out."

He soon realized that freedom to pursue intellectual things without constraint is what he likes above anything else.

Once setting his mind, he added, a new start in career embraced him and he has really achieved.

For one thing, his scholarship is distinguished by a combination of creativity and practicality, agreed Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University and many other scientists.

He has made it possible to employ large datasets in addressing various challenges in fields such as helping doctors predict the side effects of prescribed drugs.

Natural sciences though are important for an academic career, Madigan is also a huge believer in liberal arts education.

“A solid liberal arts education prepares one beautifully to live a meaningful life,” he said.

During undergraduate education, Madigan didn’t take liberal arts classes, but his love for reading gave him a unique sense and acute feel of the objective world.

“I come from a small town in Ireland, the education there was decent. But the one thing that the town had was a good library. So I read. I still read, it’s never ending," he said.

The love for reading and never ending reading has enabled Madigan to access great ideas in history and philosophy -- ideas of vital importance for his growth.

“So I think a liberal arts education is perhaps not the only way to acquire that breath of knowledge, but it’s a beautiful way to do it," he noted.

In his talk, he also encouraged young people and students to actively experiment with life and explore the possibilities out there.

“I’ve done a lot of work in the last decade in litigation as an expert witness,” Madigan cited his own experience as an example.

“I love every bit of it. But the point is, when I was 16, or when I was 25, there’s no way I could have known that it would be something very rewarding or satisfying to me," he spoke from his young experience.

“ You need to make sure you are exposed to as broader a range of experiences you can possibly manage in your formative years," Madigan suggested.

He stressed that for undergraduates in particular, being involved in university is the most important thing.

“The key factor for success in college was engagement, " he commented.

“Be part of the institution, join everything. Be part of the singer club and soccer club and whatever it is,” he suggested.

Dr. Madigan received Xinhuanet’s interview at Columbia Global Center | Beijing after addressing a speech “The University in the Global Age” recently.


(Original Text on Xinhuanet by Zhang Dongmiao, Wang Junjing. Reprint is not allowed without permission)