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My fingers peck across the keyboard in swift and decisive strokes as they complete the final sentence to my paper. When my hands resign from my desk, I scan their impeccably crafted prose. I wince as the moment of truth approaches. In a bout of cautious optimism, I push the dreaded keys: Control-Shift-C. Alas, the ill-fated battle ensues.
One thousand, four hundred and seventy two words. I remember my English teacher’s maxim, “Brevity is next to godliness”. I think back to the greats: George Orwell and his long-winded essay about writing concisely. It seems my dependence on detail clashes with my teachers’ time constraints. Once again, I face the arduous struggle between elaboration and succinctness; the latter claims inevitable victory.
As a child, my thoroughness was something of a personal brand. During the excruciating car seat-bound road trips I endured with my parents sitting in the front seats, my only soothing came from firing questions in rapid succession from the back. I asked them how big the sun was and why leaves were green, and I demanded to know where babies really came from. Displeased with my parents’ insufficient responses, I quickly began searching for a more seasoned source of knowledge. Space camp was wildly unaffordable, but the internet provided me with the intellectual satisfaction I needed for free.
Soon, I wooed my teachers with painstaking recitals of the steps of glycolysis, and delivered monologues on why teleology is a crime against science. But what was previously innocent, childish curiosity, had now fermented into sophisticated inquiry. I craved a more advanced understanding of science that the internet could not supply.
I became interested in biomedical research, and here, I was at a rather familiar disadvantage. My passion was expensive, and, much like space camp, my family lacked the finances to support it. I realized that my aspirations—the first of this kind in my immigrant family—could be fulfilled only by my own toil. No scientist would take a young teenager like me under her wing, so I resolved to instead build my very own lab in my bedroom. Our tight family budget meant that the funds for my project had to come from my personal savings. Few jobs were available for a fourteen year old, so I worked online as an audio transcriber and sold my old books and toys from home. Later, I took a job as an office file boy, earning minimum wage. Compounding school responsibilities constantly discouraged me from making money on the side, but the promising reward justified staying up late to study on some nights. It took two years to finally stock my bedroom with a microscope, a centrifuge, a spectrophotometer, and the works.
Mixing liquids in Erlenmeyer flasks was only the beginning of my scientific endeavors at home. Driven by my contempt for word counts, I wrote long plans for daring projects, which were followed by equally verbose reports. Each was more complex than the last. Writing elaborate details was tedious, but balancing scientific goals and schoolwork was even more challenging. Finishing the twelfth page of my plan for a shadow-based microscopic imager was difficult when a calculus exam loomed overhead. Nonetheless, I enjoyed tapping into my creative reserve without fear of repercussion in the form of red error text informing me of an exceeded word limit.
In my bedroom laboratory, it became obvious that any method or procedure required the utmost mechanical precision to work. I thought again about details. What I saw before my eyes was glaring evidence of their importance. A pipette that erred by a microliter in measurement could offset weeks of hard labor. The slightest tremor could scrap an entire experiment in the blink of an eye. I was, again, convinced that the finer points of science were significant because of their imperceptibility. Still, my teachers sent a conflicting message. I cursed their word limits because they compelled me to neglect my most fundamental thoughts for the sake of an arbitrary standard of “conciseness”. Fortunately, my meticulous scientific writing proved to be an effective counterweight against those ideological restraints.
With several awards now decorating my pedantic work, I have defied the word limit at last. I gaze proudly at my bedroom, for I have pushed its bounds many times. My room reminds me and my family that a personal achievement is driven largely by strong personal convictions. For me, the fulfillment of curiosity and the freedom of unfettered expression fueled my pursuit of science in the face of economic adversity.
Now, I find myself deceiving the word count yet again. I search my paper for extraneous articles that I can delete. I wonder if I can make an innocent typo somewhere by combining two words to make one. No, I am beaten into submission – defeated by the word count, and yet victorious in so many other ways.
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