Three-term NISMED director retires: Shares life lessons

(Editor’s Note: The “lessons” were culled from Dr. Merle C. Tan’s talk at the Tri-Unit General Assembly on 8 October 2012 at the Benitez Hall Auditorium where retirees from the College of Education, UP Integrated School and NISMED were honored. Ester A. Bautista of NISMED was also honored.)

As retirement draws near, I would like to share the things I learned in life and from 44.5 years of serving UP and UP NISMED, in particular.
  • Give your best in whatever you do and God will take care of the rest.

    I did have a career path until 1968 when my dream of becoming a medical doctor slowly faded away, for financial reasons. After I finished my pre-medicine course, I enrolled in the Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) Chemistry program not only because I had more than enough of the required Chemistry units for that degree but also because I wanted to earn as graduate student assistant at the Registrar’s Office. At that time, I was still hoping that after a year or two, my parents would have enough resources for me to go to medical school.

    After three years as graduate student assistant, I applied at the then Science Education Center and landed a job as research assistant to Prof. Pilar da Silva who became my mentor and best friend.

    I enjoyed my work and studies at the same time which provided me very enriching experiences. Five years after earning an M.A.T. degree in 1973, I took and passed a competitive examination given by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), then NSDB, that qualified me for a scholarship for a Ph.D. in Environmental Science. Being a promdi, this area of specialization fascinated me. Getting that degree in 1983 was the best thing that happened to my career. Now I can say that I was there at the right time. Because of that, I forgot my ambition of becoming a medical doctor. I know that my work related to the environment and science education was planned FOR me and not BY me.

  • Never say “No,” especially to a challenging task.
    When we are able to solve what seems to be a difficult task we become more confident and gain the respect of colleagues and superiors. Sometimes we may not succeed, but those can be “charged to experience.” If the task requires extending a helping hand even without promise of remuneration my father would always say “rewards are sweeter when they come unexpectedly.” One of the things he taught me and my siblings was to “never put a money value to what you can do for people.” True enough, more often than not, you will be surprised by what they give or offer in return.

  • Never get discouraged even if your best may not be so for others.
    Some people may not like our decisions and we may be criticized for doing so. For as long as we do our homework, we will always be ready to cope with criticisms, adapt to changes, and take calculated risks. My spiritual adviser and confessor said: Even if there are ten angels rallying behind you, only one distracter can ruin your mood. Take criticism as an opportunity to do better.

  • Do not compete with others; compete with yourself only.
    My mother, who happened to be my Grade 1 teacher and who was very strict always told us in class: “Don’t look at what others are doing nor compare what you have done with others. Just do what you can do best.” This inspired me a lot that every time I joined competitions, I always believed that I had something to offer.

  • Try to sustain networks and if possible, establish new ones.
    I have a lot of friends; some are younger while others are more senior in age and experience. Part of being me and my achievements are my friends who have me in mind when they have work to do. They are already making sure that I will have something productive to do after I have retired.

  • Walk your talk.
    Model what you believe in. Balance your life as a professional, give time for family bonding, and give time to do charity. The best compliments I ever received were that I “can work with all kinds of people” and am “easy to get along with.”

    I am ending my government service officially in December but I promise to be available when my assistance is needed. My legacy was time spent helping build our organizations and an abiding passion for promoting the kind of UP education and values I know. Your legacy to me is one of comradeship and faith in teamwork. I am certain that NISMED will achieve far better things than what we observe now with unconditional support from everyone.

    I thank you all who have made a difference in my life.