Forty-one years after graduating, on May 22 Charles ("Chip") Aquadro was presented with an honorary Doctor of Science degree from St. Lawrence University, his alma mater, in recognition of his achievements in science.
In his acceptance speech, Aquadro recounted the twists and turns in his path that led him to genetics. As a freshman in 1971, he was eager to pursue a degree in chemistry. “That was my first failure in college. Turned out that I wasn’t good at college chemistry,” he said.
He then discovered a passion for biology research, but the analysis of his data required a lot of mathematics. “I was great at experiments, but I wasn’t very good at math,” he said. “But I turned out to be really good at conceptualizing complex genetic processes in ways that allowed me to productively collaborate with individuals who were talented in math.”
That taught him a lesson he wanted to share with the graduating seniors in the audience: “Don’t let what you cannot do, prevent you from doing what you can do,” he said, adding, “I learned it’s not that you fail, but that you get up and get back in the game, and learn from your mistakes.”
Aquadro is Cornell’s Charles A. Alexander Professor of Biological Sciences and a faculty member of the Departments of Molecular Biology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He is a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and serves as Director of the Cornell Center for Comparative and Population Genomics.
His research is focused on discovering basic principles that determine the amount of diversity that exists within and between the genomes of organisms, and how we can use that diversity to understand organismal diversity, to discover novel genes, to maximize human health, and to advance agriculture. Aquadro’s research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. As a founding member of the Cornell Genomics Initiative in 1997, Aquadro has chaired both the Evolutionary Genomics and the Computational and Statistical Genomics focus groups. He has also served as scientific advisor to science television, including NOVA, WGBH and the Discovery Channel, as well as the PBS television series “Evolution” (1998-2001).