We’ve all been there, letting our fellow peers, classmates, friends, and family tack a label onto us. “The Science Whiz”, “The Book Worm”, “The Businessman”, “The Jokester” “The next Da Vinci”. It’s fun and games at first, being able to relate to an archetype helping us to identify ourselves through our long, endeavouring lives. But these labels are also the cause of so much confusion and wasted time and effort.
Imagine you’re in your final year of high school and you’re racking up the 95s in all your courses, including the core sciences and mathematics. You’re pretty modest about it, but everyone says you’re hot stuff, even your relatives saying you’re set to hit the big leagues. Eventually, word gets out about your achievements and everyone starts calling you a future doctor or dentist. So you all decide to enrol in the highly-populated life sciences program at U of T St. George. Lectures seem like high school review and everyone is aiming towards an MD, PhD or both. Life’s going pretty well. Until the first midterm, and surprise- you end up with a 60%.
You’re shocked. You thought you were smart. You really believed it. Everyone said so. You brush it off though, and decide to keep going, trying harder, studying more. You cut off time with your friends and family. First semester ends and you’re left with a GPA that almost every average student has. Second semester rolls around, and it’s all the same. You start to think that science isn’t for you. But luckily summer rolls around and school is finally over. You decide to enjoy the holidays and make a striking comeback next fall. But unfortunately for you, things are just getting tougher. Fall arrives and all your friends have either done research at a lab, volunteered at a hospital, or travelled halfway across the world to save Dr. Dhillon’s ailing cousin in India. At this moment, you realize that you hate science. You don’t like the competitive field. You don’t like research. You don’t like the concept of sitting in lecture for a few hours, going home to study some more and then coming in to fill in a scantron sheet only to spit out a few numbers jabbing at your already overly-sensitive GPA. So you finally decide to sit down and really start to think about life, who you really are, what you really like and what you want to live for.
It took me two huge paragraphs to only touch the surface of a bigger issue. As a life science student, I might not hear these stories from everyone, but I have heard of them on multiple accounts and in many different forms. I can’t help but think of what could have been done to prevent these anxieties, to prevent students from wasting time of the wrong life paths, to prevent the waste of effort and money. To prevent these feelings of dismay and unworthiness. To prevent the imagined judgement of people saying of you “They couldn’t handle the life science program”, “Guess they weren’t smart enough”, “Hah, I remember when they wanted to be a doctor, what a joke”. It’s because of this stigma that many students are unable to open up about their ambitions of pursuing a career in science. Even the words “MCAT” are taboo. No one wants to be labelled a failure.
But it’s okay.
You’re not a failure and you’re not going to let their discouraging words manifest inside you. You’re going address your insecurities now. I understand that it isn’t easy to do so, but we have to do it now so that these worries don’t turn into a bigger problem, like mental illness, later. You could even turn into the person you didn’t want to be, someone who puts others down for not succeeding, if you’re not careful.
Before I log off, I just want to mention that I didn’t make up the preceding story off the top of my head. Most of it was inspiration* from a fellow classmate of mine. She’s a fourth year student and managed to find out that science wasn’t for her and that theatre was her real calling in her early undergrad years. She was happy for me, hearing that science was something I was and am still interested in. She was genuinely glad that I picked the right program for me despite external influences. I wish her all the best in her future endeavours, because if she hadn’t told me about her hardships I wouldn’t know to look out for them in myself. I wouldn’t understand what half the students in my class are going through. If she hadn’t expressed the kind of encouragement she did for me, I wouldn’t have gained the insight I know now.
*Although the bulk of the story was inspired by her, many bits and pieces were fragments I took from other people’s stories as well.