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Home » Discover Rackham » At the Core: Character

Membership in the Bouchet Graduate Honor Society is more than another line on your curriculum vitae or resume. Over the last few years, I’ve applied to a variety of programs, awards, and positions. These opportunities asked me to generate quite the body of written work: cover letters; statements of research, training, and diversity; and three to five publications, the latter if available. However, the Bouchet application process was the first that explicitly invited me to consider the content of my character. Did my character closely align with the life exemplars of Dr. Edward Alexander Bouchet and the values espoused by the eponymous society formed to honor his legacy? Although crafting thoughtful, thorough, and concise language that accurately reflects the theories, methods, and core values of our scholarly activities and professional goals takes time, writing about character (and how it manifests) may demand an even deeper analysis of who we really are. A brief overview of Dr. Bouchet’s biography provides evidence of a man who did not allow the long-standing overt and covert constraints of systemic, societal, institutional, and interpersonal injustice, prejudice, and discrimination to dictate his character, perseverance, or legacy.

The Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society

Character is ultimately the “who” of yourself, the person you bring with you into the oft-overlapping identities and contexts of research, instruction, service, advocacy, and leadership. Take away the accolades, awards, and accomplishments: who are you? What narrative do you tell yourself about who you are, and does it match who you truly are the end of the day? As you consider applying to the Bouchet Society (and you should), I invite you to consider the following:

Character emerges vibrantly in the context of failure. It’s often not an “if” you fail, but when and how. Because we are human and prone to error, we are certain to fail. Are you teachable?  Do you fail well and move on and upward, or do you experience failure as an indictment on your identity, worth, and work? Would you (and others that you respect and trust) say that you fail and persevere well? Do you intentionally create space for others to provide feedback about how they experience you or how you do your work?

Character informs the kind of service you do and how you show up for the service. Are you aware of boundaries—that of your own and others? So much of scholarship, leadership, service, and advocacy brings us directly into contact with other people. Is your service welcomed and informed by them? Within the context of service, how do you advocate for your own boundaries while being able to respect and advocate for the boundaries of others?

Character can propel or hinder your ability to develop into the kind of leader that other people want to follow and emulate in their own leadership development journey. Are you someone with whom others feel comfortable articulating different points of view or sharing their boundaries? How do you lead those who do not agree with you? When you disagree with someone, how do you speak about them to others? As you move from one place or role to another in your career, what forms and sustains the legacy that you will leave behind?

Character is found in the distance between the values you espouse and the values you actively integrate into your lived, right-now life. Examples of my core values include equity, forgiveness, and justice. I endeavor to utilize forgiveness across all contexts, which creates greater sensitivity to injustice and the need to respond promptly, thoroughly, and equitably, through the range of tools and influence that I possess. At each step of the way, I invite feedback from others and regularly create space for myself to examine the quality of the content that drives my daily and future living across the various domains I navigate. So, what are your values? What are you doing right now, in this moment, to be a person of integrity, kindness, or any other value that you believe to which you hold fast? If you’re not “there” today, where do you want to be and what are a few steps that you’re able to take today to get there?

Although we approach the 101st anniversary of his death on October 28th, his influence remains even more alive. It is my hope that his life and legacy, alongside these prompts, will scaffold your thoughts regarding the Bouchet Graduate Honor Society application and beyond: encouraging and challenging you to be more fully the person you were meant to be and to do the work you feel called to do.

To learn more about the legacy of Dr. Bouchet, as referenced in this blog post, please visit APS News and Physicists of the African Diaspora.

Dr. Meredith O. Hope is a member of the Bouchet Honor Society. Applications for the society are open until November 1. For more information, please visit the Bouchet Honor Society website.