Adam T. Woolley, dean of Graduate Studies, delivered Tuesday’s devotional address. He spoke of BYU’s aim to be both spiritually strengthening and intellectually enlarging.
Woolley discussed how scholarship and faith have a clear connection and can exist in harmony. Throughout his address, he illustrated this principle by relating three personal academic experiences that helped him better understand certain eternal truths.
Early in his teaching career, Woolley discovered that in order for his chemistry students to receive good grades they had to pay careful attention to laboratory techniques, including weighing and pipetting.
Woolley would stress to his students how important it was to take good care of the equipment, to be diligent in their studies and cautious in their use of the lab. He explained that being intentional with the decisions we make in our lives is even more essential than those made in labs.
“Being watchful of one’s thoughts, words and deeds keeps us on the covenant path, but it must be more than a one-time adjustment. Careful watchfulness against sin, continued over time, helps to align our desires with God’s, as we choose to follow Him instead of anyone or anything else.”
There will be times when we make the wrong decisions, Woolley warned. But luckily, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we have the room to fail and become better.
As a professor of biochemistry, much of Woolley's research was centered around developing microscopic tools with 3-D printers that could be used by other engineers and scientists. He explained that they would often intentionally work on experiments that they knew had a low chance of success.
"On the surface, that doesn’t sound like a recipe for progress… however, what makes our approach powerful is that we learn from each experiment and each mistake, improving subsequent studies that build on those failures, to move forward a little with each successive experiment, and eventually create better systems."
The process of making mistakes and learning from them taught him the importance of repentance and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Woolley said that he began to realize that life is about making gradual improvements and relying on the Savior to help correct our mistakes.
“When we repent and turn to the Savior, the consequences of our mistakes are taken by Him … allowing both us and whomever we may have hurt to become whole again.”
It can often be difficult to tell if we are making progress, but Woolley shared that “when we look back, it is possible to see significant growth or change.” This growth comes as we humble ourselves and turn to the Lord to help us become more like Him.
Woolley concluded his remarks by telling of his life-long pursuit to become a better writer. Professing that writing has always been somewhat of a weakness of his, Woolley stated that he discovered three steps that helped him improve: recognizing a deficiency, seeking expert help and practicing.
Following this pattern, Woolley took an English class and began to practice writing more, which eventually helped lead to the publication of many of his papers.
This experience showed Woolley that we are all capable of progression, and that our weaknesses can be turned into strengths. However, Woolley made clear that true, lasting change can not be done independently of the Lord, but rather must be because of Him.
“The scriptural pathway for making weak things become strong is more than a self-help strategy or a way of developing talents in a profession. It involves ‘letting God prevail’ in our lives, and enlisting the Savior to make weak things become strong.”
Next forum Paul B. Savage, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will deliver the next devotional address on Tuesday, May 24, at 11:05 a.m. in the Marriott Center.