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TEDxOxford: Career advice worth spreading

posted 28 Sep 2011, 06:17 by Jamie Condliffe

Ever thought of helping people live to the age of 1,000? Creating a cyborg or revolutionising how we look after the environment using internet search tools?

Probably not. But at TEDxOxford, a free independent TED event (for the uninitiated, TED is an organisation famous for putting inspirational people on stage, and then releasing the talks online), aimed exclusively at 16-25 year-olds, the message was loud and clear: these pursuits aren't hair-brained ideas - they are realities that could become part of your future career. What's more, there are no hard and fast rules about how you should go about it.

While the event wasn't explicitly career-focused, it did set out, in its own words, to "inspire the outliers of tomorrow", and with talks practically dripping with inspiration, it didn't disappoint.

In part, that was down to a wonderfully diverse range of ideas and participants. Vidal Sassoon's touching monologue about his journery from orphan to perhaps the most famous hairdresser in the world sat seamlessly beside Marcus du Sautoy discussing multi-dimensional symmetry. Alan McGee's tales of launching Oasis into super-stardom and his battles with drug abuse somehow beautifully complemented Aubrey de Grey's explanations of the complexities of regenerative therapies for ageing. Even cybernetic professor, Kevin Warwick's description of a future where our bodies are augmented and invaded by technology managed not to feel at odds with Charles Roberts' inspirational not-for-profit project Greeenstar, which aims to help consumers make green choices by including environmental weightings in internet searches.

Such cohesion is no mean feat, and successfully achieving it made for a relentless yet inspiring day - a sentiment echoed by the attendees I spoke to. "I just love the fact that there are talks on such a wide range of topics," one of them told me. "I'm learning about areas I would never sit down and read about. It makes you value the overlap between topics in a whole new way."

Blurring of boundaries was celebrated by du Sautoy, too, who took time to probe the fallacies of the science-humanities divide. "When I was at school I was frustrated by the idea of being put in an arts or science box," said du Sautoy. "But mathematicians often talk of beauty and aesthetics. The mathematics I do, I do because it tells an interesting story." A refreshing alternative to conventional career advice, and an important point to remember: a career in science needn't mean you can't dabble in the arts, and vice versa.

That wasn't the only solid advice on offer. It was also heartening to hear talk of the plethora of routes which can lead to success. Admittedly, the likes of du Sautoy and de Grey have academic backgrounds, but other speakers took rather different routes - some entrepreneurial, others plain vocational. But many pointed out that, in the long run, it's grit, determination, creativity and big ideas that pay off. "You can do anything you want," encouraged Sasoon. "You don't need a professor to tell you what to do."

Continue reading at New Scientist...