I found the right room!

It’s a hot Monday afternoon. After my first day in the lab, I’m marinating in sweat and being roasted alive in the Durham heat when a girl at the bus stop approaches with a big smile and asks, “Are you a student here? What do you like about Duke?”

She’s a sophomore in high school touring colleges for the week, and I tell her I love basketball, the grass Duke works hard to keep green, and PBJ sandwiches from Div Cafe. And after that, I tell her about what brought me to Duke in the first place — how back in high school I’d always imagined myself doing research in college and how Duke is a Disney World of research opportunities.

I feel so blessed to be here this summer doing exactly what high school me had envisioned — learning really cool science from really smart people and working with a team to solve problems that matter. As part of a Bass Connections team working on the bioremediation of plastic pollution to conserve marine biodiversity, I’m excited to be working with people from all sorts of backgrounds who care about our planet and want to use science to protect it.

Here are a few things I’m anticipating to do this summer:

1. A TON of reading

While articles from PubMed have never been my go-to weekend reads, I’m learning to love dissecting papers related to my Bass Connections project. Reading scientific papers continues to be a challenge for me, and having to Google what seems like every other word can get awfully tedious. But it’s an awesome feeling to finish reading a paper and think, “Hey, I think I sort of get this…”

2. Learning that it’s okay to ask dumb questions!

Multiple times, if necessary. From previous experience, I’ve learned that nodding my head and pretending to understand when someone is explaining Thing A leads to major regret a few conversations down the line, when they start explaining Thing B under the assumption that I understand Thing A. I’m learning to be okay with not understanding things the first (or second or third) time they’re explained to me, and I’m learning to be comfortable with asking, “Can you repeat that?”

I love the quote, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.” This past week, it has at times been overwhelming to feel like the opposite of the smartest person in the room. But I am so excited that I’ll be spending my summer lab experience in the right room, surrounded by some incredibly bright minds and hopefully making some progress in our quest to care for Mother Earth.

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