Graduation Address: Dr Paula Miles, School of Psychology and Neuroscience

Graduation Office
Monday 10 June 2024

Monday 10 June 2024Ceremony A

Vice-Chancellor, special guests, colleagues, and graduates.

What an incredible honour it is to be here today to deliver your graduation address. I feel so lucky to be able to share this special day with you all.

I have had the privilege of teaching a number of you during your degrees. I was there to welcome some of you to St Andrews in your very first lecture and here we are together again as we celebrate the completion of your degrees.  

Graduation is a hugely exciting moment: to complete your degree; to walk across this stage; to formally acknowledge your hard work and commitment to your studies. A truly wonderful moment and I cannot express how proud we are of you all.

Graduation can also bring with it feelings of uncertainty as you consider what you do next. Some of you may have plans, some of you may be worried that you do not. I am here to tell you that both options are fine. And I thought I would try to prove that to you by telling you a story about a little lady from New Zealand – a quiet little lady who always had a plan.

When I was very little, I wanted to be an opera singer. That did not work out because it turns out you actually need to be able to sing. That’s okay, I thought, because I would also really like to be a flight attendant. Well, that did not work out either because I did not meet the height requirements.

After these two minor setbacks, I realised that actually my life-long dream was to become a vet. This became the plan I embraced all the way to my first day at university as a veterinary science student. It was a fantastic first day and a fantastic first year at university and my passion for veterinary science never dwindled. Sadly though, I did not make the cut and was not accepted into second year.

Suddenly, I found myself without a plan. This was scary new territory for me. I decided to do a Bachelor of Science and then reapply to vet school. Being a vet was still my plan.

By chance I had some spare credits to fill and decided to take some psychology and education modules – I did not know much about these subjects, but the module descriptions looked interesting.

Very quickly I discovered that you can be passionate about more than one thing. I never gave up on my veterinary science dream, but each year that I went through my new degree I realised how much I truly loved and connected with education and psychology, until one day I had a new plan. It just snuck up on me – I was going to become an educational psychologist.

This was a key moment for me. What was unplanned became a new plan and, to cut a long story short, this plan continued to change and evolve as I discovered new passions. I studied, I worked, I travelled. I was a therapist for autistic children, I ran a dancing school, I managed a cognitive neuroscience research lab, I performed with drag queens, I had my lovely children.

And then, some time later, I landed here in St Andrews. Never could I have imagined that this is where my path would take me. That one day I would walk across this stage, just like you have today, when I graduated with my PhD. That one day I would be standing here, talking to you about a wee lady from New Zealand who initially started life with a fairly set and rigid plan.

I guess what I am hoping to convey, by sharing my story, is that plans can be useful (at the end of the day I do still really love a plan) but I encourage you to use the skills you have acquired during your time with us to be flexible with that plan, to question and challenge,  and not be afraid to adapt or deviate from the plan. My plan did not end up being my journey. I could never have dreamt of a journey this amazing. Each experience along the way has provided me with the scaffolding I have needed to learn and develop as a person. (Those of you here who I have taught know how much I love scaffolding.)

If at times during your journey you find yourself without a plan, do not worry. Take the time needed to find the things that matter to you; the things that you are passionate about.

Also, embrace every opportunity that comes your way, because you never know what path these opportunities might lead you down.

I hope that the paths you travel are colourful and winding and that one day those paths take you first to visit New Zealand (please send me a postcard) and then back here, to St Andrews, to visit us.

Congratulations, nga mihi, and thank you.

Posted in

Related topics