Saturday, 30 April 2011

Research in first year: A lesson I still remember to this day

You know how people tell that when you do things of personal interest, that you are more likely to succeed? Well, then by that logic, the less interesting something is to you, the worse you'll do at it. This was true for me in my first year.  I basically thought that research meant being able to cure cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and all other illnesses out there and winning the Nobel prize. In preparation for doing my volunteer work, I read three of my professor's scientific journal articles just so I would be ready in case he asked me anything related to his research. I was determined to be one of the upcoming stars in his laboratory. Now, with that in mind, imagine my shock when I ended up cleaning glass panels and test tubes instead of doing experiments.

Although my time doing research for this professor was brief, I was a lab member and was lucky to be invited to lab meetings and lunches. During one of our lab meetings, I was introduced to someone who most certainly has no recollection of me. He is one of Canada's most prominent oncologists and was the former supervisor of the professor I was doing research for. This man was kind, but most importantly, straightforward, something that I believe a lot of first year students are not exposed to. Present at the lab meeting were undergraduate research assistants (like me), undergraduate research investigators, and graduate and PhD students. All of us were students of biochemistry.

I remember the oncologist looking at all of us students and asking us the question, "How many of you want to be successful in research?" and just about every one of us put our hands up. The oncologist then asked us, "Now, why do you think you will become successful at what you are doing?"

One of the students answered, "Because I like to do research."

The oncologist then said, "That does not mean you will be good at it."

Everyone was a little bit shocked at what he had said. I think that most people want to believe that if you put in enough hard work, that you will be able to rise to the challenge and become great at it. We are taught from a very young age by teachers and mentors around us that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. This was the first time that I had someone tell me the opposite. He proceeded to tell us that being interested in a topic does not hurt, but it is not everything. There must be some talent. If you are not talented at something, then how can you be good at it?

Does an art student want the world to their see drawings? I think a lot of the time, yes, there is hope for this. What if he or she becomes an artist, and realizes that they are not good at it? Should they quit because they were unsuccessful? Or should they continue because that is what they love to do? If we can evaluate why we are doing what we are doing, and what our purpose is in the midst of things, maybe our expectations won't be so skewed. Maybe we will be more content with what we pick instead of becoming bitter that the path we have chosen is not living up to our expectations.

For me, my future rests in medicine. Some say medicine is an art. I believe this to be true. For those who have landed here and are premeds, there is a chance that we could all become ineffective doctors because we lack the talent. Knowing that, what makes becoming a doctor worth it? Personally, I have chosen to acquire as much experience as I could volunteering in hospitals and doing clinical research. I like people, and I like helping them. I know that there is a chance I could enter medicine and realize I have a lack of talent... but until then, I think I'll take my chances. If there is a possibility that I can help others, and as cheesy as it sounds, make a difference in their lives, then the gamble is all worth it. But even though I say this now, I wonder what my perceptions will be like in the future and hope I'll still have the same feelings of optimism as I currently possess.

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