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“I believe the process of going from confusion to understanding is a precious, even emotional, experience that can be the foundation of self-confidence.” Brian Greene, as quoted in This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women
As the protein bands darkened, distinct and in the arrangement I had predicted, I prepared the National Institute of Health-mandated lab notebook, eager to show my results to Dr. Dong. I handed the notebook page to her, grinning as she carefully inspected my procedure. By the time she handed it back to me, she had already concluded her succinct congratulations and begun instructing me on the way she wanted me to transform the qualitative data so it could be quantitatively analyzed. My triumph concluded, I walked slowly back to the lab, ready to learn a new procedure.
Working as an actual member of a research lab certainly humbled me and provided an opportunity for me to connect with PhD students on a personal level. I matured as a result of the expectations of the Voelcker Academy and the accountability to those in my lab. I found that the privileges and community associated with the lab made the long days worth it. The numerous scientific articles I was required by Dr. Dong to read allowed me to understand what I was doing. The nights where I was the last to leave and the weekends where I worked to finish tests that could not simply be halted over the weekend made exciting results worthwhile. The added work I put in enabled me to establish rapport with the others in my lab, who were unaccustomed to working with undergrads, let alone high-schoolers. And when a medical doctor worked in the lab, I was proud to be given the task of explaining familiar procedures to him, initially to his chagrin as he assumed I knew little.
The first time I presented at a weekly lab meeting, I was terrified. Even though I spent the majority of the day worrying about how every word on my PowerPoint would be judged by the lab, I did it. The lab members might have just congratulated me afterward to reassure me, but they congratulated me nonetheless. At the first lab party I attended, I talked mainly to the lone, approachable undergrad. At my most recent party, however, I felt completely at home making dumplings, singing karaoke, drinking delicious coconut milk (I was the only member of the lab under the age of 21), and looking at old photo albums of Dr. Dong’s. I talked to lab members — my friends — and was completely comfortable.
My participation in Voelcker has shown me that an earnest desire to learn goes well-rewarded. Through the friends I make and the clubs I participate in, I strive to learn and connect with others who share the same intellectual values. If accepted to Princeton, I will involve myself in the diverse intellectual environment, participating in clubs such as the American Whig-Cliosophic Society and the Bioethics Forum, and taking advantage of opportunities such as lectures by those such as Jonathan Safran Foer. I am ready to build on my own “foundation of self-confidence.”
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