Guest Post By: Nathalie Momplaisir
As a high school senior, I am sure you have heard a plethora of perspectives of what college is. Some of them include the fun that college brings, how heavy the coursework can be, the long-life friends that you will meet there, the opportunities present, and so much more. One thing that I have personally heard before starting college was that college will change you.
My path is a little bit different. I did not complete my four years of high school in the United States. I immigrated to the States during my last year of high school; thus, the process of applying to college was sort of hectic. Since I graduated high school at an early age (16 years old), my parents did not recommend me going away for college yet. Thus, I chose to attend Miami Dade College for the first two years before I became accustomed to the education system here in the States. Then, I later transferred to Tuskegee University to complete the rest of my undergraduate studies. The challenges did not stop.
Choosing the right major
A lot of us come into college and do not know which field we want to go into. In other cases, we think we know what we want to do right after high school, and once we start taking classes pertaining to that chosen field, we realize that the major that we chose is not for us.
Personally, after high school, my focus was set on the medical field. Thus, I chose to be on a path to a major in Biology due to the fact that it was the most common route taken by students who wanted to pursue that field. As I started taking more classes, I noticed that I liked biology, but then I liked chemistry. I remember being bored and just reading my chemistry book. That passion for chemistry was intensified by the organic chemistry classes that I took during my sophomore year. Organic chemistry made sense to me and it was just beautiful. It was at that moment that I knew I needed to shift the gear to chemistry.
Thus, in order to channel my inner chemist, I decided to do research in the field of polymer chemistry. Of course there were many ups and downs. This experience made me aware of what working in the lab is like, how to read and use the scientific literature out there in my research, and the presentation skills needed to communicate my project to different types of audiences. It also taught me the qualities that I look for in a mentor and definitely opened my way to getting recommendation letters that I needed in order to transfer to a four-year University.
These classes that I took as well as my exposure to the field directed me to what I wanted to pursue in my undergraduate career. If you are in a situation where you are not sure of what you want to pursue, just explore. Try to take classes of interest to you during the first year of college. Do your research and talk to several people in diverse fields just to get different perspectives. Be open to change your major and pursue the field that is of interest to you.
How to use your major
So now that you are interested in a field you decide to pursue it. A lot of times, the field is so broad that you have to narrow it down to a specific sub-area in the field.
For instance, I knew I loved chemistry, but because I was exposed to the wide-ranging field of chemistry and the different research experiences which entail polymer chemistry, cancer biology, and nanochemistry it became hard for me to see what I wanted to do with my major. I knew I wanted to be in the research field, but it was hard for me to narrow my area of interest in that field. Some days, I told myself that I would pursue a doctoral degree in organic chemistry, the next day, biochemistry, and it would just fluctuate.
As I took more classes and talked to students and professors I came across toxicology. Initially, I was not aware of what that was. I am a curious person so I researched the field of toxicology and I applied for a program that encouraged minorities in the field of toxicology. Then I was able to intern that summer in a toxicology-based laboratory. The skills that I obtained in that lab have been invaluable to my career. I came out of that internship with more skills than I expected and I was able to publish my work last year. That experience led me to focus in pharmacology, which is interdisciplinary, and my interest to pursue a graduate degree in that field.
Sometimes, it can be easy. Maybe taking a certain class in your field can help you focus on a specific area in the field that you are in. Maybe working in a specific environment, a life experience, an internship, and other situations can help you figure out exactly what you want to do with your degree and how to use it. However long it takes you to figure that out learn and enjoy the process.
Balancing your time adequately
Now, with everything that goes on, planning and planning was one of the most important skills that I acquired. With classes, research, conference, social time, self-care, it was hard to balance it all if I did not plan my day accordingly. Sometimes, I planned my day accordingly, but then, flexibility would be much needed.
One of my hardest semesters was the fall semester of my senior year. I took classes that accounted for 19 credits while I was in the process of applying for graduate school. I also had to study for the GRE which is an entrance-test for graduate school. I was doing research at the time and writing my paper to get published. I was also part of organizations on campus. I had to see my professors during office hours. It was so hard to balance it all some days. I had to take care of myself and include time where I would take a break for a few hours which usually consisted of hanging out with friends or taking a nap. However, it did not always work like that. That semester was so hard to the point that I overslept twice for classes.
Despite all, these were the challenges that equipped me to be the person that I am today. There were more challenges than that, such as self-doubt, dealing with on and off depression, and other issues. To deal with these issues, I had to pray. Other times, I talked to my significant other or my mentor depending on the issue. Sometimes, I just told myself it was okay to take a break and recharge myself. Mental health is important and taking care of it is a major part of self-care.
Yes, I did great in college and I am so thankful for the experiences there and the obstacles that I have had to overcome. I did not always have it all together. Sometimes, I was exhausted physically and mentally, but I kept going. At the end of the day, there is beauty in the struggle; it just takes time to see the beauty. Yes, when you go to college, you will meet challenges, and that will change you into the person you need to be, but you will meet great people who will help you in some aspect of your life. Ask for help when needed. Have fun! Work hard and smart; you can do it! Someone else is watching you and is being inspired.
Nathalie Momplaisir is a recent graduate of Tuskegee University. She will start her doctoral journey in pharmacology at the University of Michigan this upcoming fall. She is an advocate of minorities and women in STEM. Her free time enjoys trying new food, watching movies, and spending good time with family and friends.
Follow her on Instagram: @_steministnat