Reflections, Revelations and Resolutions: My Journey Toward Scientific Pursuit and Beyond

By Archana Verma, senior at Jericho Senior High School and Regeneron Science Talent Search 2017 fifth place winner

My friend and I were dancing like turkeys in my basement instead of studying for physics when I received the phone call revealing my status as a Regeneron Science Talent Search finalist.

“Archana, I would like to congratulate you on being named a Regeneron Science Talent Search finalist!”

Regeneron Science Talent Search 2017 fifth place winner Archana Verma dancing.

Shock and gratitude overwhelmed me, preventing me from saying all the things I wanted to say and asking everything I wanted to ask. I just nodded, only to realize I couldn’t be seen. I barely managed to squeak a feeble “OK”.

I had dreamed of screaming, crying and having the perfect response. That obviously didn’t happen and remained a part of my dream. The rest of that night was spent in self-reflection. Only one question recurred: “Why me?” and I’m sure this question was swimming in the minds of the other finalists as well. My science research coordinator tried to answer that question for me, when I called her that night. She told me that she was grateful that I decided not to drop the research course.

Wait — hold up. What’s this about me wanting to drop the course? As a Regeneron Science Talent Search finalist (and now fifth place winner), wouldn’t all of the work prior to this competition have been easy for me? Hahaha no. No chance. Many success stories tend to omit the nights filled to the brim with tears, self-deprecating thoughts and anxiety. We’re normal students, experiencing the same struggles that typical high school students face. It’s as if our failures simply cease to exist, just labeled as “worth it” in the face of achievement. And while this sentiment has some degree of merit, I wonder if we would have reached such heights without them.

Archana (right) with fellow classmate and finalist Nathaniel Lee (middle) and Dr. Serena McCalla, science research coordinator at Jericho High School (left).

Prior to my sophomore year, I moved to Jericho due to a change in my dad’s job. My parents allowed me to rank the possible schools I could attend to ensure I was at a place which would provide the best education for me. After researching schools near New York City, scheduling tours and speaking with members of the administration, Jericho rose to the top of my list because of its prestigious science research program. However, due to scheduling constraints and graduation requirements, I was unable to enroll in the course. With the support of my AP Chemistry teacher, my science research coordinator allowed me to join her class my junior year. Even so, by joining late, I was vastly underprepared, overwhelmed and ready to quit. I lacked the basic skills necessary for research which my peers spent the past year developing.

The feelings of incompetence and fear of failure dominated my thoughts. Do I have the time to commit to research? What sacrifices would I make — clubs, APs, sleep? Is it too competitive and stressful? Will there ever be an end?

It was this internal battle — that need to put in extra work for the same results — which intensified my drive and made me stronger than I previously thought. The work that my teachers put into building me up pushed me to fulfill my potential and live up to their expectations. My new goal was to prove that I was worth something — to show everyone whatever it was that my teachers saw in me.

In retrospect, I advise that if you commit to this intense lifestyle wholeheartedly, the experience will be fulfilling. Yes, I did sacrifice some AP classes and clubs to focus on research, though I chose not to sacrifice sleep. Yes, competition is a big portion of this lifestyle. Whether you win or not may be slightly dependent on other factors like “luck”, but it’s mostly skill. However, if you focus on self-improvement and your external image, it becomes an enjoyable and fulfilling process in and of itself. The knowledge you will gain, the people you will meet, the work ethic you will develop and the growth you will endure are “worth it”.

I guess you could say this story has a happy ending, but that really depends on where you consider the story to end. Maybe the end is where the great mental leap comes in, and it’s time to just reflect on and be grateful for the sheer progress made. However, I don’t think this story has ended yet. I think I have a lot more to learn. I hope I have a lot more to learn.

There are probably going to be a lot of changes in my near future, a lot of not quite understanding what’s expected of me and sometimes a lack of control. However, the number of triumphs will always be one more than the number of obstacles. It’s okay for me to fail at times. No one can know everything — that is why it’s my goal to learn not only from myself, but also from my surroundings and from the specializations of others. I’m certain that the knowledge I’ll gain during my college years will be much more immense and monumental than the knowledge I’ve gained thus far.

Archana explains her research at the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2017 public exhibition of projects.

The Regeneron Science Talent Search reignited my desire to learn and understand how the universe works. I fell in love with the academically stimulating environment, and was in awe of my newfound role models who taught me how to be a better person. I hope to never end this fulfilling process of learning; it’s what drives me, and what I identify as. It’s what I’ll always live by. There are going to be so many more moments of dancing care-freely and in my basement with my friends shamelessly — so many more moments of sheer joy appearing in different forms. THAT is what I look toward.