As you may know, this famous quote in the title is derived from the words of Reinhold Niebuhr: “Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.” I was reminded of this quote by a masterful photograph depicting the life cycle of a butterfly passing through a window while walking with my postdoctoral advisor and entire lab members at a farewell party in Boulder, Colorado in 2002. This quote resonated with me since I was mentally and emotionally exhausted after overcoming 13 years of my life studying abroad at the University of Wisconsin Madison and Colorado State University in Fort Collins while pursuing my Master’s, Ph.D., and postdoctoral studies. Despite these hardships, I returned to Korea spiritually reinvigorated by the quote and committed to working on insect immunology and virus-transmitting vector biology at Chonnam National University (CNU) starting in 2003.
I would also like to share two success stories of being “willing to surrender what you are for what you could become” from two students I met in my class at CNU. One success story is derived from Dr. Noh Mi-young who is currently working as a tenure-track faculty member at the Department of Forestry at CNU. She had done elegant and highly skilled work during her M.S. and Ph. D. degrees on insect immune responses against bacteria and viruses in my lab, and published many research papers on insect cuticles (exoskeletons) in high impact journals during her postdoctoral study in Professor Arakane’s lab in the Department of Applied Biology at the university. With these dedicated endeavors, she was able to receive the President's Postdoctoral Fellowship from the National Research Foundation (NRF) in Korea. Now she has become one of the leading scholars in the field of chitin metabolism and cuticle tanning with the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaeneum, not only in Korea but also internationally. From this story, I learned that anyone who is dedicated to a single discipline may overcome any obstacle in academia.
The other success story is emanating from Dr. Park Ki-beom who received his Ph. D. in the Department of Applied Biology, CNU in 2021. I met him in my Insect Pathology course and had a gut feeling that he had great potential to become an excellent scientist. Therefore, I offered him to join my lab where he was involved in working on a crucial project on large‐scale virus surveillance at the Climate Change Vector Surveillance Center where he focused on developing novel detection methods for arthropod-borne viruses such as dengue and Zika. He has worked so hard throughout the challenges of the project. He was able to publish several patents on molecular diagnostic methods and viral RNA extraction protocols. With these patents and knowledge, he was able to open up a start-up company, Invirustech, in 2019, and he was also able to become a leader in molecular diagnosis of human flaviviruses (Japanese encephalitis virus, Dengue fever, Yellow fever, West Nile viruses, and Zika virus) and severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus (SFTSV) transmitted through mosquitoes and ticks, respectively.
With the above-mentioned stories, I learned that as long as we are dedicated to live our lives with the mindset “Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become!“. I am sure that we will overcome the various obstacles and difficulties we face in our daily lives.
By Han Yeon-soo, Professor, Department of Applied Biology