Finding Your Purpose


Associate Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Biology

May 21, 2019

Although I am frightened, I am very grateful to be here. To be asked to speak and I’m grateful to see so many of my family and friends here in support. It means a lot to me. 

My great academic interest in life has been biology. I’m not certain if that stems from the fact that I grew up with 10 children and a house teeming full of life or the fact that I was raised outdoors and went camping all the time.

There are many big questions encompassed by the study of biology.  For example:  What exactly is life?  How do you living things function?  How was the great diversity of life created and how is it evolving?

With the challenge of the great diversity of life, how do we classify life?  I love each of these questions but my favorite question is a combination of them.  What is the unique role of each diverse form of life?  I believe that there is a unique role that every species has an important role to play on our planet.  The diversity of life is astounding. One measure of the diversity on our planet, the species number is estimated at about 11 million species of cellular life. That is life that is composed of cells.  We have begun to catalogue and understand only a small fraction of these species and there is life beyond cellular life.  In fact, the most abundant biological entities on the earth are viruses.  They’re estimated to be greater than 10 to the power of 31. 

Costa Georgopoulos, a virologist, with the University of Utah, compared the mass of all viruses on the planet with the mass of all humans, although viruses are microscopic, if we pile them up on a giant scale, viruses would weigh more than all the 8 billion humans on the planet, even if we were all sumo wrestlers.


The abundance and diversity of life means that biologists will always have something to do, but also means that in order to succeed on the planet, a species must have a purpose and a place much like trying to find a place at the family dinner table amid nine hungry siblings.  There are many examples of the unique and essential function a single species plays and its ecological impact.

For example, several studies show that removing the sea otter from a habitat may lead to an increase in sea urchins and a corresponding decrease in kelp beds.  This alters wave action, and siltation, having dramatic impacts on the species present in the habitat.  In these cases, the sea otter had a much higher impact on the ecology than what was expected from their sheer numbers.

I study bacteria phages which are viruses that can infect and kill bacteria.  The word bacteria phage literally means “eat bacteria”. Most people think of a virus as something bad, something that makes them sick, but viruses also contribute to the health of our planet by regulating the levels of bacteria in an ecological system.

In addition, viruses have useful purposes. They have recently saved the lives of individuals infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria. In these cases, the viruses could infect and kill bacteria that are resistant to antibiotic giving an alternative treatment when there are no other treatment options. 

In fact, some of the viruses isolated by students here at BYU, are being used to treat a sea turtle, Shelley, who has an antibiotic resistant bacterial infection.  Viruses can be very specific for the type of bacteria that they kill. Seeking out the pathogen and leaving the rest of our body full of other bacteria that are actually helping us and Shelley.  And there are a lot of good bacteria. IN fact, research shows that we have as many bacterial cells in us and on us as human cells.  This is referred to as our biome. Our microbiome is essential to our health.  Thus, both viruses and bacteria, which most people have thought of as bad for so many years, have an important place in our health as well as in the ecological health of our planet.  This inter-related nature of life is complex and highly variable.  As is the individual and essential roles that each form of life plays.  I have taught biology at BYU for 11 years now, interacting with hundreds of students each year.  What has impacted me the most is the same truth, that each student has an individual and unique role to play. That each student has unique talents and gifts that are not quite the same in any other person.

A well-known but beautiful example of this is the life of Anne Franke.  On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I was able to visit the secret annex where Anne’s family hid for over two years. Although I had read her diary in school, when I was young, there were many aspects of her story I had never heard before. These aspects display how one person, Anne, came to recognize the role she could play through the use of her talents.  Anne’s family lived in Germany and fled to the Netherlands in 1933 due to the threatening, political climate.  As the Nazi army moved toward Amsterdam, Anne’s father, Otto Frank, built a small annex in the back of his shop where the family would live for over two years along with the Van Pels family, as well as Fritz Pfeifer.

The eight of them had to rely on the bravery and generosity of six other individuals who risked their lives to help them hide, and to bring them food rations.  These individuals included their friends, Johanna and Beep Veskokul, Meep and Jan Geese, Victor Koogler and Johannes Kleeman. 

On Anne’s 13th birthday, she was given a notebook that she immediately began using as a diary.  During the two years of hiding in the cramped space, Anne’s outlet was writing. She wrote many things, including her thoughts and feelings, poems and tales. While in hiding, the Frank also listened quietly to the radio for news, and plotted the path of the Allied forces as the moved towards Amsterdam.  In 1944, while listening to the radio, Anne heard the following advice given by the Dutch cabinet minister, Gerrit Volk Steen, “history cannot be written on the basis on official decisions and documents alone. If our descendants are to understand fully, what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, what we need are ordinary documents, a diary, letters from a worker in Germany, a collection of sermons given by a parson or priest.  Not until we succeed in bringing together vast quantities of this simple, everyday material, will the picture of our struggle for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory.  Anne immediately had purpose. She was inspired to rewrite her diary into a book that she hoped to share with the world. 

Over the next four months, she worked tirelessly to abridge the last two years of her writings. She rewrote her diary for clarity, and replaced real names with pseudonyms for publication.  Anne expressed to her family her purpose, that after the war her book on the experience on living in the Annex would be published, giving the world a piece of the story of World War II.  Somehow through pathways still unknown today, the police became aware of their hiding place in August of 1944. All eight of the individuals in the secret annex were sent to the concentration camp.  All of the items in the annex were also confiscated. When her father’s secretary, Meep Ghees, visited the Annex shortly after, she was able to retrieve Anne’s diaries.  Of the eight in the secret annex, only Anne’s father, Otto, survived the concentration camps.  After the war, he returned to Amsterdam to look for his family and he met Meep Ghees who gave him Anne’s diaries.  Anne’s father worked hard to get it published.  He was rejected several times and it took him several years to get it published but he never gave up.

Today, millions of people have read the diary. It has inspired countless, including survivors of similar, unimaginable difficulties.  I am inspired by Anne's story and her writings and her belief that one person can make a difference. But, I also know that it is not just her story, it is the story of her family, including her father, who worked to keep the family safe for so many years.  And then, after so much sorrow, was blessed to fulfill his daughter's wishes and to publish Anne's diary.  It is the story of the six other individuals who risked their lives to hide them in the annex, including Victor Kubler and Johannes Cleamen who were also taken captive by the police.  It is the story of one person's great talents and interacting with many other great talents.

The big question of life is how do we find our own individual talents and purpose in life?  During my time at BYU, I have spoken with many students who feel unsure of their future and the path that they should take.  Too often we compare ourselves to the one person who seemed sure of their path rather than the twenty like us who are searching for their path.  What I do know is, that in all cases, our ability to utilize our time, energy, and talents is completely dependent upon our Father in Heaven and on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Not only are we dependent on them to become ourselves but this is their greatest desire for us they have literally done everything that can be done in order to help us succeed in this life and in the next.  Our savior has given his life in the single most powerful act of love to ever occur.  The atonement through the atonement each of us can find the best use of our talents and develop those talents beyond what we would ever be capable of alone.  I believe there is no greater gift than helping someone develop to the fullest of their potential, to become the person they want to be.  To use their talents to the fullest extent.

I bear my testimony to you that our Father in Heaven cares for each of the students at BYU, every individually and we'll help you find your place in life some of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life have come from praying for students who have discussed a problem with me.  I would like to share an example with you. 

On three separate occasions, I was searching for funds to enable a student to be trained in scientific research.  Each one of these students had approached me with a very unique position, as well as a great desire to be trained and to use their talents.  I did not have the funding to accept another student.  In each of these cases, knowing that the student needed the funds immediately when usually it takes me six to twelve months to get grant funding, I turn to prayer.  On each of these occasions, a funding opportunity came to me out of the blue within a few days of praying for these students with little effort on my part. 

Let me tell you, that this does not happen, nor is it likely to happen to me again unless the Lord is moving mountains on a student's behalf.  Scientific research funding is exceptionally difficult to come by, normally I spend several months of many long hours searching out appropriate grants, writing the proposals, and getting the necessary preliminary for funding.

I know it was the Lord's hand in each of these three instances.  When the student and I had done all we could, doors were open to allow the students to develop their talents.  These remarkable experiences and several others had given me a strong testimony of our Savior’s great love and personal interest in each of you.  Having said this, I don't want to mislead you that life will be easy, or that all of our prayers will be immediately answered in such an obvious way.  But what I do know is that when we rely on our Savior and ask for his help, he will help us.  And we can have our peace be as a river and our righteousness as the waves of the sea as Isaiah has written.

Recently I've noticed the choice of words used in this scripture, it does not say our peace will be as a still pond.  I believe this is on purpose.  I believe that if we are trying to develop and use our talents we will have help from the Savior, but we will encounter difficulties.  In addition, we are not perfect, we make mistakes.  This is perhaps the flowing of the river of which he speaks.  If we are continually moving forward over all of the rocks, through the twists and the turns, relying on him, he will be there for us, to help us and guide us.

I bear my testimony of this.  The Holy Ghost has worn me away from poor decisions.  He has warned me from pathways that lead to sin and unhappiness.  Our Heavenly Father is most generous, forgiving, and merciful.  He will help us to overcome our weaknesses.  They are never too great, and it is never too late, but we need to seek Him. 

A few years ago, I was at the grocery store and I felt a little pressure on the side of my pant leg.  It was a young child, of two or three, who had obviously gotten my pant leg mixed up with their own mothers and was walking with me right by my side.  When I felt the pressure, I stopped and looked down, and the young child, of course, stopped and looked up.  I could see the moment on their face when they recognized their mistake and they immediately panicked. 

Just as this young child, we too can be deceived, and lose our way.  Our Heavenly Father, and the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, are the authors and finishers of our faith.  Only by his Spirit, will any of us receive confirmation on any truth of any matter, including our individual worth and the love that our Heavenly Father has for us.  Our father is no respecter of persons, he loves each and every one of us.  He knows our potential and unique talents better than anyone. 

There is no substitute pantleg.  Seeking out truth through the scientific method of observation hypothesis in an experiment is what biologists seek to do.

I leave everyone including myself with the admonition of Alma to experiment upon the word.  To ask the Lord about our individual worth, our talents, and the pathways we should go to become our best selves.  To plant a seed, nourish it, and to let it grow.

But if he will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up into everlasting life.  And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word and nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by you shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.  Then my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith and your diligence and patience and long suffering waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.


Notice how many times Alma entreats us to have patience.  If you find yourself struggling at times, if you find you're in the midst of your long suffering, take heart and have faith.  Believe that you have a divine purpose.  Believe that you have unique talents that are unmatched in the world.  Work hard and pray the Lord will help.  He will direct you to your best self, to your own ecological niche. He will open doors for you.  You will find what he wants you to do, and you will bless countless others in doing it.

I'd like to bear my testimony of a kind and generous loving a merciful father and his great love for you in the name of Jesus Christ amen

Julianne Grose
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