It's funny how time flies. I remember vividly dreaming and hoping to be a ballerina, or a vetrinarian or a cow girl. Most of all, I wanted to be an artist! I wanted it so badly that when my drawing skills didn't improve overnight, I gave up drawing altogether some time in high school. In fact I transferred out of drawing and into photography class. I was very self conscious of my abilities and I didn't feel comfortable in a crowded room with my art on an isle for everyone to see. Photography was more my thing. I could sneak around with my camera clandestinely capturing candids of my friends, strangers; tourists were my favorite. Then I could hide in the dark room for hours and hours, in secret, obsesively dodging and burning. I loved film. I loved art. And with the help of my chemistry teacher, I began to love chemistry.
Drawing and art crept back in, of course. In college, I turned to sketching to stay awake in class, trying to capture my neighbors before they noticed, or the professor at the front of the class. In such a low pressure environment my skills began to develop. Have you ever drawn the back of an ear? I took a painting class and discovered that I work much better with colors than with shades. I made cards and gifts and sketches. Watercolor, oils, acrylics, spray paint, oil pastels, anything I could get my hands on, I would do it. I still do it. I love it.
SO why all this talk about art? Aren't I a chemist afterall? This is my fifth year as a professional student in chemistry. I'm a master even, soon to be a doctor. But I want to be more than a chemist.
Sometimes I struggle with imposter syndrome. Sometiems I feel like I am the opposite of what a good scientist should be. I'm not as precise or systematic as many of my peers. I'm not as tidy or as punctual. I'm not as skilled at manipulating equations or exhaustive memorization. I don't really care about points or grades or prestige. I worry that I'm just not cut out for it. Maybe I should have been an artist? Who knows.
But as I get older, what do I want to be has resolved into what do you want to do?
The more I know about the field of chemistry and science in general, the more I realize that to succeed at anything, you have to have a vision. On my grandpa's 80th birthday recently I asked him what it was like to see the younger generations take charge of our modern world- cell phones, the internet, the mall, you name it. I asked him if he felt we were misguided and spoiled. After some thought, he said this "The only thing that really worries me is that kids these days, they lack direction." I think he's right too. There's so many distractions these days and it's so hard to sift through all of these new and expanding expectations and social causes and standards. There are so many things to be. The tyrany of choice, right?
This past year has been marked by self reflection and reconstruction. What do I want out of life? How can I accomplish my goals while staying true to myself? What are my goals? Six months ago, I made a 12 month plan aimed at "fixing" everything I felt was wrong. I set some financial goals. I vowed to lose 10 lbs. I drafted a list of medical issues that needed to be addressed. I went in search of a boyfriend and more friends in general. Being the overachiever that I am, I managed to make serious progress on all of those. I lost the weight and started eating healthier, consolidated my credit, and dealt with many other chores I had been putting off. These small accomplishments have boosted my confidence and now I'm thinking about what my next goals are. I'm even feeling inspired to make some very long term goals. I told my mentee that it helps to write down goals and share them and so I'm going to practice what I preach and share with all of you.
What do I want to be? What do I want to do?
I want to make a difference. I'm sad to say that I live a selfish and self centered life. The way our world works, it's difficult not to. Lately I've been asking myself what can I do to give back? In the past, I've done community service with my resume in mind. But now that I am an adult, it's much more personal.
While at MIT, a funny thing happened. For the first time in my higher education I had a black professor. Not only a black professor, but a female black professor. A black female professor in science. A highly respected, very successful, completely stylish, somewhat short amazingly smart professor who looked just like me. She took time out of her extremely busy schedule to speak with me, to give me advice, to mentor me. This simple act likely saved my life. I was in crisis and she was one of only two professors willing to speak with me, to help me. Her example helped restore my faith in myself and I believe that it's my responsibility to do what I can to inspire other women that they can be successful without sacrificing who they are. So here is my vision.
Visibility is key to achievement. I want to increase the visibility of successful people from diverse backgrounds.
I want to encourage a culture of mentorship in my community. I want to develop the communication and leadership skills necessary to lead a project or organization that accomplishes a specific goal. I want to overcome my anxiety over communicating and coordinating with figures of authority and organization. I want to fight so that others don't have to experience what it's like to be written off because of your race, your femininity, or your different point of view.
A good starting point is probably a blog that highlights the successes of women, racial minorities, LGBT people, you name it. Through interviews and personal stories, I want to start a dialogue about the barriers still faced and how we can overcome them. I want to overcome stereotypes. For many, race is a taboo subject that is impolite to talk about. For LGBT people, even would be allies are eager to understand but afraid to ask. I want to show people that you really can be whatever you want. My friends in elementary school used to say I was stupid and ditzy. I never felt like I would be good enough. I want the theme to be overcoming adversity. I want the lesson to be that everyone feels alone and inadequite but that it is possible to overcome these feelings and be successful. This is especially important for teens who may not see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Eventually, I'd like to facilitate research fellowships for highschool students who might not have a chance otherwise. When I was in highschool, I felt like only the smartest students could work in a lab. I vaguely wanted to, but I didn't know how. Also, I did not have the luxury of volunteering so much of my time as I worked to support myself much of my senior year. I'd like to draw from diverse pools as well-not just AP and IB kids. I get the feeling that many kids feel intimidated and dissinterested in science because they don't understand the application or relevance of it. I didn't really love chemistry until I got my hands dirty. I bet you could take a C student from a junior chemistry class (not AP/IB), get them into the lab, give him a project of his own and the change of perspective might motivate him to learn skills in order to apply them. A small group environment is key for this. I believe this is why many teaching labs are useless. This past summer I witnessed a program that takes Juan Diego High School students and pays them to work in the lab. Why can't we have a similar program for public schools?
I'm not sure what will come of this, but I'm brainstorming and thinking. I don't want this to detract from my studies, but in a large way I could see this becoming an integral part of my studies. Who knows!