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I thought I had it all figured out when I began high school. My future, I was convinced, was in psychology—a field that has always fascinated me and seemed to be a promising career choice. Before specializing in psychology in college, I planned to focus on my science and math classes and to take part in as many science-related extracurricular activities as possible.
Unfortunately, not everything goes as planned. The problem I encountered was that I soon lost confidence in my ability to do well in science and math classes. My sophomore chemistry class was an especially frustrating experience, thanks to the combination of a confusing textbook, an uninspiring teacher, and my own self-doubt. Instead of loving science and math, I began to be intimidated by those subjects. While once they stimulated my imagination, they now became associated with disappointing test results, pressure to perform well, and personal insecurity.
Despite all this, I slowly decided not to give up on science and math. My junior physics class, which I enjoyed far more than chemistry the year before, helped me overcome my mental blocks and realize that my problem was lack of confidence, not lack of ability. An even more important turning point was my participation in the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) TEAMS competition, an event in which students compete to solve engineering problems. In the days leading up to the competition, I was terrified. I dreaded the difficult problems that loomed before me, and I was convinced that I had not done enough to prepare. Even though I had aced the practice problems that our teacher had given us, I attributed my success to luck and worried that I would let my teammates down.
The way that the competition unfolded, therefore, was a complete shock to me. As I began completing the daunting multiple-choice test, I realized that I knew how to answer almost every question I looked at. Over the next few hours, I worked at full throttle, filling my calculator and scratch paper with calculations and confidently answering each problem. Filling in bubbles had never felt so good. Ultimately, I gave an excellent personal performance and my team won first place in the entire competition.
Although my team’s victory was very gratifying, the greatest benefit of winning the competition was the opportunity it gave me to learn so much so suddenly about myself. I found out that my misgivings about my ability to do well in science and math were baseless, and that I am just as capable of excelling as my talented schoolmates. Even in a hectic competition, where time is short and pressure is high, I am able to succeed when I put aside my doubts and apply my hard-earned knowledge and skills.
In the months since the JETS competition, my newfound confidence has displayed itself in several ways. I continued to thrive in my junior physics class. I carried out independent research projects on the effect of caffeine on mental performance and on the function and physiology of the dreaming brain, and developed my enthusiasm for neuroscience. I entered the American Association of Physics Teachers Photo Contest and won a prize for my picture of smoke rising from a burning incense stick. Most importantly, the dreams with which I entered high school seem attainable again. I now know not to let my doubts dampen my passion for psychology and neuroscience, or anything else that I decide to pursue.
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