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I woke up that morning with a feeling of dread. As I raced down to the bus stop through the twilight of the early morning, I felt my heart palpitating with anticipation and worry. Every second that the bus brought me closer to New Haven, my fear grew more intense. Even as I swiped my keycard at the gates of Yale University’s Osborn Memorial Laboratory, apprehension of what I might find out in the minutes ahead overcame me. Eventually, after mustering my courage, I stepped into the cool air of the staging area; first donning my lab coat, then the gloves, then the goggles. Each move felt mechanical and automatic, like the motions of any other day. Yet today was different: today I would discover if my toil and trouble that I had poured into this experiment was truly worth it. My hands, ever steady through countless trials, now shook from simultaneous fear and excitement.
My heart plummeted as I opened the incubator. It appeared that my experiment had been a complete failure. I dreaded having to report my failure to my mentor; to my surprise, Dr. Davis was not in the least bit disappointed. He told me that often times, experiments may appear to be disasters, but that they still give us insights into the world around us. His goal, he said, was not to be always right; rather, he endeavoured to gain an understanding of the fundamental topics of science. My internship in Dr. Davis’ lab gave me a greater understanding of “success,” not only in scientific research, but in life itself.
Science is a passion which is often frustrating before becoming rewarding. I had always wondered how viruses infect cells and survive the hostile conditions of the human body; though invisible to our eyes, viruses and humans interact in so many different ways. Though my laboratory work tested my patience and seemed useless at that time, it helped me answer those questions that I had pondered since my childhood, while granting some small insight into the workings of the world we inhabit. As my summer internship progressed, I conducted innumerable trials and poured countless hours of effort into my work in the attempt to discover something concrete. Two weeks after my first, less-than-successful experiment, I was able to determine how certain strains of viruses are able to evolve at the molecular level to attain higher survival rates.
My early experiments reminded me that I am not perfect. I can’t promise to cure cancer, fix the economy, or anything like that. What I can promise is that I will do my utmost to utilize whatever skills I have and have acquired, to the fullest of my ability. I want to engage in scientific research that expands the gamut of human knowledge, even if it is only a small contribution in the form of fundamental research. I revel in the true reward that comes from the thrill of discovery after the possible disappointment of failure. Results apart, scientists get involved in research for the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself.
I still wonder why my viruses could not survive under certain other conditions, but I learnt that innovation and discovery do not come from shirking away from the unknown, but rather from being a beacon of light in the darkness of ignorance. Like ancient explorers who charted the dark unknown for others to follow, I know that someday, some eager researchers will ask similar questions and utilize my work as the basis for their studies. I only hope that my contributions will help others as I continue upon my quest to help solve pressing medical problems that pervade the world around us.
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