Kimberly Topp inspires students in her Last Lecture

Thursday, April 30, 2015

On April 22, Chair of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, Dr. Kimberly Topp, PhD, gave an address that wove together stories from her personal and professional life. Dr. Topp became the fourth UCSF professor voted by the students to answer the prompt, “If you had one lecture to give, what would you say?” to a rapt and responsive audience.

Recurring themes throughout the talk were her personal work ethic, which started in eighth grade as a babysitter and child-care provider and continued through various jobs – including retail – along her journey to college, graduate school, post-doc and beyond.

Another recurring theme was space, and how the spaces she’s lived and worked in have affected her personal and professional life.  Spaces, like the off – the grid cabin her family built near Flagstaff, Arizona helped develop her work ethic. Spaces like the 35-foot sailboat she lived on with her husband helped her organize her material possessions and dictated the place in which she wrote her dissertation.

Space also carried over to her professional life as she eventually moved towards working in a lab space that helped create “casual and deliberate interactions” and helped design the new clinical teaching spaces for the physical therapy students.

Dr. Topp also shared some personal anecdotes from her vibrant life - camping trips inspired a continual love of the outdoors. “I’m in the sun as much as I can be, if your drive with me, I leave the sunroof down,” she said.

Her life has taken her through many different cities and many different locations- starting with spending her childhood and youth in Arizona, to San Diego, Davis and eventually to San Francisco.

She also wove in the historical context of how history and attitudes of the time shape her life and experiences from the mundane to those with social impact. She noted, “Yes, there was a time without computers, iPads… or even electronic medical records,” in recounting her mother teacher her to write – in cursive, which is no longer taught in schools.

With humility and grace she concluded with her own personal experiences with diversity and learning to value different human experiences and connections. She acknowledged that as a product of a different generation and place, she has occasionally made mistakes in her interactions with people, and noted that “some of her best teachers have been students.”

To a standing ovation, she concluded that both herself and the UCSF community as a whole, should “Mind the rumble strip” by alerting each other when we have made mistakes and to give each other space for learning growth and recovery.

Dr. Topp’s complete “Last Lecture” can be viewed online at: