This is definitely a trip down memory lane.
So do you remember from my last post how I stumbled upon a live-action One Liter of Tears? Not long after I was notified that I got into a high school on the Upper East Side. My parents were freaking out — I had to travel to school on a train with two transfers 45 min each way. Spoiler Alert: I made it 🙂
I entered high school with two friends of mine from middle school. We all found out in the springtime of our freshman year that there was a program that was taking in students interested in STEM…specifically Research. Thinking back to my passion for becoming a researcher in Japan, I figured I’d enter the seminar to hear what it’s all about.
Here is the basic gist: There are three years to the program. Your “training” year where you learn how to read scientific papers, build up your vocab in a field you are interested in, and you try, like hell, to get a Principal Investigator (the person who runs a lab) to say: “Yes. Please come to our lab to do research on topic XYZ.” From a cohort of 30, it dropped to 7 next year. Only about 7 people find opportunities to work in labs. And then you compete in competitions, build up your credibility with your project, — give a variety of presentations — and that’s it! You graduate. The program was called the “Advance Science Research Program” or ASR for short.
I remember as a year 1 (out of 3 years) I read through so many articles and journals trying to figure out what I wanted to study. I loved neuroscience and found myself attracted to different research issues involving epilepsy. I wanted so badly to study epilepsy so there I went… writing out emails to professors asking them to take me in their lab as free work. All I wanted to do was to learn.
No one responded.
It was really disappointing. I must have sent over 300 emails that year. But I kept at it. All year, during my first year, I kept applying, kept emailing, kept reading, and kept hoping something was going to come out of all this time and dedication. By the end of year 1, I must have read 300 scientific papers. I found myself asking: What am I going to do with all this information?
The year went by… and nothing. The entire cohort of 30 panicked. Then… magically in May, a summer program at an organic chemistry lab at City College of NY was announced..I applied… and got in. And then in June, in the same CCNY building, a physics program was announced… and literally, a week later a professor at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital emailed me back saying that it would be great to have me around to shadow and learn.
Boom! The moment I had been waiting for.
It took a little while — I perfectly juggled the three positions during the summer, and continued with two of them during my Junior year. Needless to say, I was exhausted the entire time. Haha.
Key takeaways to apply for your own journey:
- Keep going. This is just a taste of what it’s going to be like when you apply for jobs. Even if they don’t have a position for you right there and then, you will be on their radar. Labs are always underfunded, and understaffed. Help is always appreciated in any way or form.
- So did I ever get to work with Epileptic genes or patients? No. I worked in Spectroscopy (the study of light), Inorganic chemistry, and something to do with mouse tails. I didn’t get to use that knowledge that I accumulated during the past nine months, but I did gain the ability to:
- Read scientific literature like a pro
- Write my own proposals and think through my own grants
- Get a schedule and work routine that worked for me
- Met incredible research scientists
- Compete with my work for scholarship money
- Learn how to communicate the jargon of a specific field in a simple way so my friends and family could participate in my journey and success.
Even though I wasn’t working on exactly what I wanted, the skills I gained were immensely still valuable. To be on the same caliber as students who have been studying the material professionally for years felt really good — and was a testament to all the work I had put in.
A plus in all of this is that I met my boyfriend, my fiancé that summer.