Elisabeth McClure

PhD Candidate in Psychology, Georgetown University
St. John’s College (MD), Class of 2008
Elisabeth McClure Headshot

​​After years working in laboratories, I've come to believe that good scientists are characterized not simply by expertise, but by strength of character. Recognizing my own ignorance, asking good questions, and valuing failure are incredible challenges – ones that my liberal arts education at St. John's College prepared me to meet.​

Science only makes true progress when ignorance is acknowledged. In the laboratory, there are no answer keys or grades, the outcome of experiments can be unclear, and no one can tell you with certainty whether you're heading in the right direction. This is a humbling experience, especially given the emphasis that traditional education places on finding the right answer. The liberal arts taught me to savor that feeling of uncertainty – every great author I read at St. John's started in ignorance and set out to understand. Each was part of a continuous human struggle to discover what is true and to define what truth is in the first place. This struggle is still ongoing, and I am a part of it.
Asking good questions is a skill that takes great time and effort to acquire. You need patience and guidance to learn to stick with one question rather than asking ten others at the same time, to pare down that question to its essence in order to achieve maximum insight, and to persevere when an answer is not easily forthcoming. This is a lifelong practice, but I have had the best teachers to guide me: Authors like Euclid and Kant have given me unparalleled models to follow, and puzzling through their works with my peers was invaluable practice.
Yet, for all this preparation, failure is still one of my most treasured experiences. It leaves me in awe, and I can think of no better seed for further thought. At St. John’s, I often found myself blissfully unaware of my own false assumptions until I offered them aloud to others. Failure became a revelation, a way to purge myself of unknown errors in a community of supportive learners. I discovered that revolutions in thought, both personal and historical, are often the result of this process. My liberal arts education taught me that failing to achieve expected results is not failing outright, but is an opportunity to mark a new beginning of inquiry.
The goal of the liberal arts is not to pass information from one person to another but to turn students into free thinkers. Thinking for oneself requires active participation in the shaping of one's own mind. As a scientist, I've found that professional credentials and easy recollection of obscure facts are less important to my endeavors than the character required to function as a free thinking human being.

Elisabeth McClure is a PhD candidate in Georgetown University’s Department of Psychology, where she conducts research on children’s use of digital media. Her current research examines the emotional engagement of very young children during screen-mediated social interactions, like those simulated by children’s television programs or encountered in services like Skype and FaceTime. Prior to attending Georgetown, she was an English language assistant at a high school in France and worked as a laboratory manager in the Lifelong Brain and Cognition Lab at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. She received her BA in liberal arts from St. John's College and her MS in psychology from Georgetown University.