I finished my first year of graduate school on the East Coast. It was an incredible, growing experience. I’ve been busier, but also happier than ever.
Now that I’m in California, I’ve been reflecting on the first year and how it went. I did accomplish many things: I made it to my university’s Twitter for my mini heart health campaign, I got good grades, I served as a Nutrition Counselor, I became a Clinic Director, I created an algorithm and referral guide for a clinic, I got my name on a publication, I got a fellowship from my school, I got a fellowship from the number one cancer hospital in the country, and I joined a lab that researches Type II diabetes and homelessness. Outside of this, I did meet many new people and made friends, I got into a great relationship, I travelled to New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and soon enough Texas. I also slept more this year, and exercised more.
Graduate school is much different than undergrad. I have more time to think. I am much more introspective than I was before because of having more time, and also because I’ve matured more. I’ve realized that above all, I value meaning and fulfillment, and that my greatest fear is emptiness. This poses an advantage and disadvantage to me — This is what drives me, but this is what also makes it hard to relax. Although in the past two weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that honestly not every day and every thing has to have meaning.
In undergrad, I explored many careers and options: getting a Ph.D. in Nutrition or Epidemiology, Medicine, Dietetics, etc. I remember going to a STEM for Women event in 2015 and telling the Director of the Biotechnology Department my goal (at that time) of working for the state department as an epidemiologist after getting my Masters. I always thought that this goal was very ambitious, only to hear her tell me that I needed to think big, and that I was limiting myself. She told me to think about the CDC, WHO, etc. This is an encounter that has always stuck with me. Now I wonder: Am I indirectly limiting myself? Am I not perceiving situations clearly? Am I not as confident as I feel? Am I just sort of mindlessly picking things because they seem fitting, without really looking at their basis?
When I pursued my interest in botany, I began to think about why I chose health and never looked back. I was curious as to whether health was actually my passion, and whether there was may be some other calling that I had never considered. Yes, my father died of a heart attack — did that just result in a passion that was handed down to me? It was a passion that was in some ways bestowed on me. My father had his first heart attack shortly after my birthday, and his second during an event for my school — so maybe indirectly I assumed it was my fault. I was young and fighting heart disease was a cause that gave me an identity. It allowed me to find a life purpose, and it created a zeal for knowledge. My heart disease interest was sort of like the old adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Losing my father and the repercussions of it, made life harder, but it created in me a passion for health. A passion that developed into an identity. It is what got me through long nights of studying, the endless research projects, and the many commitments.
This year, I began to think more and more as to why I chose health. I realized that most of it had to do with being Catholic. Catholicism is very flawed, I will admit. However, I’ve valued it largely because it emphasizes service and helping others. It has created meaning to my life. Botany is an amazing art that has led me to look at the world in a more positive light (I could go on and on about how it has shaped my perception of life), but it will not be what I ultimately pursue.
In undergrad, I focused on research and lab work. I was so obsessed with getting into graduate school and having the perfect resume, that I lost sight of the causes that I was fighting for. This past year, in volunteering in clinics for the underserved, I felt more fulfilled. I became more invested in patients — seeing if they had escaped the pre-diabetes, if they lowered their soda intake, if their blood pressure improved.. etc. I liked hearing their stories, and about what brought them to New Haven, and what their lives were like. Even if my abilities and contributions were limited, I felt as though I was actually contributing something to the human experience rather than just studying in a library or trying to further my career.
Yes, a career in the health care field is for me. It is the only thing that will make me feel fulfilled — which is what I want most from life.
While the future of my path still remains uncertain, if I’ve learned anything this year my two big interests are:
2. Health care for the underserved.
More to come.