As we step closer and closer to graduation, we reflect. A question that comes up often is: if you had the chance to do Princeton again, what would you change? My answer has been the same ever since the year of agony (aka, the year in which I took organic chemistry). I always say: “I would have taken organic chemistry over the summer, anywhere besides Princeton.” I think the answer is fair; my experience with organic chemistry was lackluster. The professor refused to have office hours (this has since changed), the weekly review sessions were scheduled during my organic chemistry night lab (and they refused to change the sessions to accommodate all of the students), and I had, by-far, the least helpful TA. The class experience was terrible but when organic chemistry confirmed, for me, was that I should sign-into the molecular biology department rather than the chemistry department.
Some people are doubtful when I tell them that if I had to the opportunity to repeat Princeton, I would sign-into the molecular biology department again. I would not say that my department is filled with individuals who regret their decision, but I would say that my my love for molecular biology is not necessarily reciprocated; Princeton’s undergraduate molecular biology coursework is: (1) rigorous, (2) time-consuming, (3) stressful, and (4) rewarding. I think the best indicator of the standards of the coursework is the fact that our thesis is graded with a rubric that allots the best scores on the basis of potential publication status–almost impossible for an undergraduate. So why would I study molecular biology again?
The obvious reason: molecular biology is extremely interesting. I love signaling transduction pathways. I love understanding how molecules work, interact, and co-operate; I find it interesting that small mutations in a gene or protein can have terrible manifestations. It makes me grateful that I am well because it takes very little to be unwell or severely unwell. Besides that, my time as a molecular biology major has taught me to be a skeptic and how to take criticism as criticism and not an attack.
Scientists are trained to be skeptical. Without the data, there is no belief. Without reproducibility, there is no significance. I’ve learned to ask questions (and to ask the right questions) and I have learned how to make strides to understand complicated biological/biochemical phenomenon; I’ve learned to question the authorities (professors, textbooks, and studies). Even better, as a young scientist, I have written a thesis. I have my own piece of intellectual work, which I love, and tomorrow, I have to give an oral defense of this thesis. I am nervous and excited to talk about my brainchild with two extremely talented and inspiring professors in my department. Of course, there will be criticism of experimental rationale or methodology or whatever it is, but I feel as though I will be able to handle it, with grace. I’ve given 11 practice talks thus far and I am giving my last practice talk tonight at 10:00. With that, twelve practices corresponding with approximately twelve months of research I will be done. I will simply hope for the best tomorrow. This defense goes down tomorrow at 3:00. Keep me in your thoughts.