Ruben Santiago-Hudson '78, left, and Ben Eisenkop were two of the seven speakers at the fourth TEDxBinghamtonUniversity conference.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Binghamton alum, doctoral student take center stage at TEDx
March 31, 2014Tweet
Grab what you can on the periphery as you travel down the path of life.
That was the advice delivered by award-winning actor/director/playwright Ruben Santiago-Hudson ’78 at the fourth TEDxBinghamton University conference on March 30 in the Osterhout Concert Theater.
“Don’t just stick to your major,” he told the hundreds of students in attendance. “Actors: Take biology. Biologists: Take acting. Musicians: Take English. Historians: Take psychology. There are a lot of things offered to you. Be a sponge. Absorb, take, grow and give it out to the world.”
Santiago-Hudson’s inspirational address closed the conference, which had a “Stray the Course” theme. Santiago-Hudson was one of seven people to speak at the sold-out events. Others addressed alternative futures of science funding (Binghamton University doctoral student Ben Eisenkop); the war on drugs (gabriel sayegh); Bitcoin (Jeff Garzik); the birth of Jezebel.com (Anna Holmes); the mathematics of love (Hannah Fry); and cricket (Sebastian Walker). The Binghamton Crosbys, an all-male a capella group, also performed.
Santiago-Hudson’s career includes roles on the ABC show “Castle” and the AMC show “Low Winter Sun.” He also wrote the play “Lackawanna Blues,” which became an HBO movie.
“What you know about me are my successes,” the Tony and Obie Award winner said. “People think I am built on the things I have achieved. I am equally built on all of the things I failed at. I am equally built on all of the ‘nos’ I’ve received.”
Those “nos” are part of “the fabric of who I am,” said Santiago-Hudson, adding that it is a word many people fear.
“’No’ is part of my job description,” he said. “I get a ‘no’ 1,000 more times than a ‘yes.’ Did I get the role? No, no, no: too short, too fat, too tall, too dark, too light, too bald and ain’t got enough teeth!”
Trying something on the periphery helps build character and substance even if the result is unsuccessful, Santiago-Hudson stressed.
“You get big,” he said. “You get strong. You get smarter. You get experience.”
Santiago-Hudson said he often hears actors say: “I’m not a scientist or a brain surgeon.”
“You are the doctor. Trust me,” he responded. “That scientist, chemist or lawyer is coming to see you. They are spending $150 on Broadway to see their doctor. Never take for granted what you do.”
Taking part in different experiences allows one to gather, Santiago-Hudson said. The more someone can gather, the more he or she can give.
“This journey is long,” he said. “Prepare yourself physically, spiritually and emotionally. Be generous, be gracious, be humble and give, give, give.”
For a researcher such as Eisenkop, the journey to science funding can be long and stressful.
The National Science Foundation now requires that researchers submit a pre-proposal for their main grant proposal. Researchers have a 20 percent chance of passing the pre-proposal stage and then a 15 percent chance of receiving final funding, Eisenkop said.
“This comes out to a 3 percent funding rate, which is terrifying,” he said. “There are some smaller projects we can identify and say: ‘Can we fund these in a different way and also try to involve the community?’”
Eisenkop, an ecosystem ecologist, and his colleagues began doing community-outreach projects such as taking a falcon to Syracuse or tagging crows in Ithaca.
“Building this rapport with people was something I thought was unique,” he said.
Eisenkop then turned his attention to online sites such as Reddit.com, where (as Unidan) he discussed biological topics and met online communities interested in scientific research.
Kickstarter could be a model for alternative research funding, Eisenkop said, but it doesn’t work for science because it comes with a promise: Make a donation, receive a gift.
“A science ‘Kickstarter’ is different because you are promising data,” he said. “Nobody is saying: ‘Yes! An Excel spreadsheet!’”
Today, alternative science funding has advanced to the point where sites such as experiment.com are offering platforms for research projects. Meanwhile, groups using Reddit’s “Dogecoin” cryptocurrency are helping to fund the projects. And more people are becoming interested in science.
“If you can reach people and try to get them interested in you, then that builds the future of funding,” Eisenkop said. “If we can get people to interact with the world around us, they can build questions and try to answer them. Even if they can’t get answers from other people, they can do small projects and get answers themselves. I’d really like to see that for the future of science.”