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Dr. John Niblack gave remarks to current and new Niblack Research Scholars.

Niblack Research Scholars Day continues investment in student-centered land-grant research

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Media Contact: Harrison Hill | Senior Research Communications Specialist | 405-744-5827 |

Dr. John Niblack, an Oklahoma State University alumnus and former vice chairman of Pfizer Inc., continues his investment in the young researchers at OSU through the Niblack Research Scholars program, which he founded in 2004.

On Friday, OSU had its annual Niblack Research Scholars Day where scholars presented research to a panel of experts including Niblack and Dr. Kenneth Sewell, OSU’s vice president for research and faculty from across campus.

Niblack applauded the group’s hard work and how far the program has come.

“My main message to you today is that you’re entering one of the most exciting professions you could be in,” he said. “You might not think so, but scientists and engineers — everybody in the STEM disciplines — have major effects on everything, sometimes exciting or frightening impacts but you are in the forefront of where all the action is.”

The program encourages young scientists to get started on their research careers early.

“You're wilder [when you are younger],” Niblack said. “Everybody knows that there are certain things you might as well not try because others have tried that and it didn’t work well, well you don't know that.”

Niblack added that even when someone mentions their research might not work out, they are willing to give it a shot anyway.

“They're not scared to try stuff out, so they do,” he said. “They produce a lot of good stuff.”

The NRS program pairs undergraduate students with a faculty and graduate student mentor to conduct research over the course of a year. As part of the program, scholars then present their research to Niblack during his visit the following fall semester.

“There’s no scientific career that I can imagine where you’re not going to be faced with having to explain your findings,” Niblack said. “You have to be able to defend your stuff, defend why you did it, defend how you did it in minute detail.”

Niblack commented on how Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer — the theoretical physicist credited with creating the atomic bomb — was as successful as he was due to his communication skills.

“It was one of the reasons he became the leader of the Manhattan Project,” he said. “Presentational skills are key even in a situation as high ranking as the Manhattan Project and the direction of it.”

As the program has grown there have been some significant changes. The research projects being chosen are just as complicated and important as the first classes, but the female percentage of scholars has grown Niblack said.

“[The NRS program] started with about 12 or 13 boys and two or three girls in the beginning,” Niblack said. “Slowly but surely, you can draw a line up to the top where now that’s flipped.”

The biggest advantage of the NRS program is lab time. Niblack commented on how NRS labs tend to be more interesting than the labs most students take. Being in the NRS labs allows students to focus on what they want to learn more about and on innovative research.

“Real science is not repeating someone’s formulaic experiment,” Niblack said. “Real science is doing something that nobody’s ever done before.”

Story By: Abigail Cage |

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