I was sitting down at my desk to take a break between lab tasks. I have challenged myself to write and post compositions throughout the day today.
I was thinking about my future. I asked myself if I had ever dreamed of this. “This” being my life as a scientist. I remembered that I had always wanted to change the world. Then I reminded myself that, somewhere in the midst of life, I had convinced myself that my goal was a bit lofty and lacked specificity. What did I want to do to change the world?
With that thought, I remember a long forgotten time in my life. I was the ever wise sixteen year old. I remember wanting to start a company that used science to change the world. At that time, I had this idea that I would design and build a water production/cleaning system that would be a basis for providing potable water for drought ridden areas, particularly areas on the continent of Africa. I even had a name for this company: SCInternational Resolutions: my first two initials (hey! I was still an adolescent), the beginning letter of the word science, international, resolutions. I can’t remember why I chose “resolutions” over “solutions”; surely, for some altruistic reason. I wanted to invent and educate. I thought that I would design tools and devices and teach the people who I designed them for how to use them and how to build off of the concepts that I used.
I remember standing on the top of the highest peak in the Blue Ridge mountains later that summer. It was on my seventeenth birthday. I was at a point so high that I thought I could see the curvature of the Earth. I was in awe. I thought about what it meant that I was standing there on that day. I wondered whether the things I had hoped for were near or far away. High school graduation seemed to be an eternity away. I thought about being a chemist. I thought about being a fashion designer. I wondered how many dreams one person was allowed to have. I was still a shy, mature-for-her-age, yet noticeably inexperienced young lady and I hated it. What would I be when I grew up? What was going to be my role in making the world a better place than when I had joined it?
Today, I am a scientist. I am nearing the end of a long tunnel that has been my life as a PhD student. These days I still ask myself “what will I be when I grow up?” I remember that little girl and ponder what she has grown into in the past (more than a) decade of her life. Have I made a difference? Have I given someone a voice who didn’t have one? Have I educated? Have I invented? Have I created? Have I helped? Have I inspired? Have I done anything to answer those questions from my younger self? Have I made her proud?
Remembering something I had forgotten makes me believe that life has a way of coming full circle. I thought that my dream of becoming a scientist was something that popped into my head while I was considering my love of bench work as an engineering undergrad then as a biology grad major. I had forgotten that this was a dream that was a part of me for a really long time. I had fostered it when I designed my prize winning science fair project in the sixth grade. I breathed life into it when I stood on top of that mountain and chose to bury my dreams deep down in what I thought was the safest place, my heart. I gave it wings when I took a chance on myself and submitted an application to one of the top PhD programs in my field.
Remembering something I had forgotten has brought to my recollection the challenge of finding that “thing” that I will do to affect some aspect of this world. Maybe I’m closer than I think. If only I could say that to my seventeen year old self.