Address to the UBC Congregation - May 26th, 2004
by Anne Treisman

I’d like first to congratulate all my new fellow-graduands. This is a great class to belong to!

I feel honored and moved to be back here receiving an honorary degree from UBC.

Somehow I don’t feel I have earned it, since all I have done has been to enjoy myself, trying to find out about some of the mysteries of the mind and the brain and trying to convey the thrill of discovery to the undergraduate and graduate students who showed up in my classes or my lab. I should be the one giving an award to UBC and to the other universities that have allowed me to spend my time so enjoyably.

When we first visited UBC nearly 30 years ago looking for jobs, we fell in love with the beauty of the place, we liked all the people we met, and we surprised ourselves by deciding to move here rather than to Michigan, which we had almost decided on. Some deluded souls wondered whether we were just going for the life-style, but as it turned out the life style, which was admittedly wonderful, was highly compatible with an exciting and productive work-life with stimulating colleagues and with all the facilities we needed for our research. This is a great university. My husband, Daniel Kahneman, and I both did much of our best work during the 8 years we were here. So we owe UBC a real debt of gratitude as well as a continuing affection.

I’m sure that, like us, all you students have laid down memories that will stay with you forever. Mine include the pleasures of teaching UBC undergraduates and graduate students in classes that were very different from the ones I taught at Oxford, but that proved in some ways more stimulating and enjoyable; interacting with the world class faculty of the UBC psychology department in all their exciting diversity; then, getting more specific, there are memories of staring at the picture of the view from the faculty club dining-room when the real view through the windows actually offered only clouds and fog; listening to the rather florid stories of people in our lab who seemed to lead private lives of unusual color and excitement (don’t let anyone tell you that Canadians are dull!); making the most of the rich culture on offer in the city. I think our biggest achievement and claim to fame while we were here was that we introduced the morning coffee social where people from different Psychology labs could congregate and exchange their newest ideas or the latest gossip. We have kept very fond memories of Vancouver and UBC.

Giving this kind of speech is not my strongest skill. When I was hesitant to do it, our hosts graciously suggested I might share a few words of wisdom with the students about to leave for the world beyond the university. What have I learned? Mostly I’ve learned from the multiple mistakes I’ve made -- but I won’t go into those in public. And anyway, learning from other people’s mistakes just doesn’t work nearly as well as learning from your own. So you will probably have to do that for yourselves. Certainly I’ve learned to make the most of my luck, and to recognize it, even in unexpected forms and places.

What advice can I pass on, that you haven’t already acquired from being at this wonderful university? Probably none that is new, but I can pick out a few points that seem important to me.

You’ve certainly been well-prepared. Psychology is about the most versatile subject there is, teaching you about people, society, neuroscience of the brain and rats! All you need to understand and do well in the world. So what advice could you need? Get to know yourselves, find what you do best, what you enjoy most, what you have to offer other people. Don’t try to be someone else -- although there is no harm in polishing up your own rough edges. Don’t be too timid. On the whole I think it is better to regret having done something than to regret not having done it. Make the most of all the opportunities that come up.

Enough with the sermon! Go out and celebrate this wonderful life and try to make sure that others can enjoy it too.