Thoughts from a PhD student in BME

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Don’t suppress the passions inside you while aiming to be the best

This morning, I quietly sat beside my advisor at the research meeting. When I think about the fact that I am nowhere on track to get a Master’s, let alone a PhD, I realize that my time is truly being wasted. My advisor is not interested in me, and now I am not interested in his research. I have all but checked out. I can no longer concentrate in classses, and it’s hard for me to even pretend to care.

Rewind:

As I applied to graduate schools, it was particularly difficult for me to find  the “perfect program”. I was fairly new to research in the sense that my priority in undergrad was not printing out publications, and reading up on new advancements in the field, but the most important thing was getting good grades. For a while, I stopped watching television, had no idea what was going on in the world, or even in my backyard because my outside interests were not important. First, I had to get the grades and the degree to do what I wanted to.

But what did I want to do? What am I meant to do? More than likely, something that is reflected in my academic strengths… something with the physical, biological, and mathematical sciences. Hey, I’ve always been a tech person, loved working with cars in high school, loved using my tools when something broke, why not engineering? On the other side, I value human life so, and would like to encourage health, and quality of life… I made up my mind and decided to pursue Biomedical Engineering.

I came across faculty research interests like “nanoparticles” (hey, I’m a chemist), “spinal cord injury”, “brain-computer interface”, and “neural engineering”. Surely, I could “do” this thing called research in grad school as long as I thought it was “cool”. But looking back, in order for me to pursue a doctoral degree, I need to do what I am truly passionate about. This way,  my work will be a reflection of my dedication. Even when something goes off-track, I will stick with it.

But where do my passions lie?

With people. I was what is called a “sensitive” child. This does not mean that I cried a lot. This means that I felt everything for me and everything for those around me. If someone was embarrased or hurt, I would jump to their defense. If someone was missing just one dollar and could not get lunch, I would share mine. Even now, I feel a tremendous responsibility to help whenever  and however I can.

Like most foundations, mine were established at home. The youngest of five children, I could have easily grown up spoiled. In fact, I will add in that I have not had an especially hard life. Sure I have struggled with self-esteem, relationships, and personal concerns but I have been blessed. I stated earlier that I could have been spoiled… I actually was spoiled, but somewhere along the way, I learned to put other’s needs before my own.

When I was just eight years old, my mother got into a serious car accident that almost took her life. My sisters all grown and off in college, at a young age, I learned the ins and outs of being a personal nurse. I learned to drop whatever I was doing to lend a hand to the strongest person in my life. Then, I learned to help not only my elders, but those my age and younger. I traveled to Mexico, Senegal, and Ghana, where I met children just like me. I would give my last dollar to young children making a living for their families by selling hand-made crafts. In college, I gave back by helping in a local soup kitchen. While those being served were grateful, I realized my greatest contribution was working along side the other workers. They needed a smiling face too. I continued to develop relationships but helping out classmates in areas that I excelled in and tutoring others in the subjects. My attitude is reflected by the motto at my alma mater “Enter to learn, depart to serve”. I have been taught that life can be a challenge, but it is not a competition.

Since undergrad, life has been a challenge. Anyone can submit letters of recommendation from their favorite professors who taught their best subjects… Some can have the numbers and one-letter grades to vouch for their academic potential, but who can really vouch for their passion and commitment to serve humanity?

In August of this year, during my family reunion, I took my first cruise to Nassau. We ate wonderfully. If we wanted salmon and steak, we got salmon and steak. In fact, I joked that I would lose weight just so that I could take full advantage of the unlimited food. This euphoria and memories of family and fun came to an abrupt end when less than a week after the cruise, my uncle, the life of the party, died from Cardiac Heart Disease.

The “silent killer” left my family in shock. It is unfortunate that something tragic must happen in order to make everyone else realize that life is too short. Like most African American families, with good Southern food, my family history is complete with heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. Something has got to give! I began doing my research, attended seminars and spread the word through presentations and magazines about the importance of good habits in diet and exercise. I should be a living testimony and no stranger to health messages.

Couple this extracurricular activity with an inkling that I should be of service in another capacity.

People…Health… Math… Community… Health… Community…Public Health!!!

Like I said earlier, I had allowed my passions to take a backseat to my academics. I don’t want to make that mistake again.

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