At times I wonder why I chose the path I did. Before starting grad school, I had this rather naive and earnest outlook, thinking my life would continue on the linear path to success and greatness. As long as I tried hard, I’d get to where I’d want to end up. That philosophy seemed to work for undergrad. However, that’s one big difference between undergrad and grad school that I’ve learned this past year: in undergrad, you know exactly what to do to succeed: study hard and do well in class; in grad school, you have no idea what you’re doing. And for me, a person who likes to know what’s expected of her, this has been one of the most difficult things to deal with. Everyday I question whether I’m doing enough or what I’m doing is right. This doubt then leads me to wonder why I chose such a path. Why am I putting myself through this, to become a better person or just to torture myself?
I do similar things when I choose baking projects. In high school, for my French class, we could get extra credit for baking a French dessert for Christmas: either buche de noel or croquembouche. I’d say up late into the night trying to perfect those desserts, only to roll up a cracked genoise or burn my sugar coating. The one thing that I’ll always remember thinking from those experiences: “Man, French desserts are hard.”
Having learned my lesson from those near all-nighters just baking, I’ve tried to choose rather simple, straight-forward recipes to try. I often bake quick breads because of their simplicity. However, my ambition has gotten the better of me several times. One time in particular, I stayed up till 2am making empanadas. But I should mention that I did start at 11pm. The recipe wasn’t that difficult; it was just time consuming. I’m sure if more than one person was doing it, the process would have gone much faster.
But in the end, it was all worth it. Once I had finished baking, I took the piping hot empanadas to my friend’s house for brunch and they were a hit! The crusts of the empanadas were flaky, buttery, and golden. The spicy sweet potato and black bean filling had a depth of flavor. Everyone praised the empanadas, and even my friend’s boyfriend, who is quite the foodie chef, complimented my beautiful crust. Right then, I realized that all of that work was worth it. All of my efforts and hard work that night had made people happy and that reward was so satisfying to me.
And perhaps that’s why I’m putting myself through all of this work in grad school – to gain the skills and knowledge so that I can help the world and make a difference. The ability to create new knowledge and spread it throughout the scientific community actually excites and motivates me. And the satisfaction I’ll obtain in the end will make all of that hard work and suffering worth it.