Monday, February 29, 2016

The Most Valuable Things I’ve Learned in College

The Most Valuable Things I’ve Learned in College
Maria K. Almoite

College is often described as our magic ticket to success. Ideally, here’s how the path to success looks like: Go to college, study a field that interest you, “follow your passion,” and land the job of your dreams. Voila! Once you complete these 4 easy steps, you’ll be a success! Or will you? Just ask recent graduates that you know of and see if this formula actually works. Is post-secondary education actually worth it?

College is not the ultimate panacea for a happy and successful life.  Success without a degree is not reserved for brainiacs or ivy-league drop-outs like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Some of my most successful and intelligently average friends without a degree are out-performing my studious straight A’s students peers in their careers. To some, college is just not for them, and that is all right. Likewise, having a college degree doesn’t automatically makes you brilliant, happy, or successful. If higher education isn’t the golden road to wealth and high status, is a $100,000 education worth it? I’m thousands of dollars in debt, probably aged a couple years from several all-nighters, slightly socially awkward after being locked up in a lab, but I wouldn’t exchange my 4 years in education for anything. Here are the 3 irreplaceable life lessons I’ve learned.

Lesson #1: Question Everything

In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with a ton of information—a mixture between pseudoscience and real science. How do we distinguish factual from junk science? In my undergraduate career, I learned to become skeptic. I questioned every information presented before me. What, why, and how? Has this finding been replicated? Peer-reviewed? Was the experiment controlled for potential confounds? Was the conclusion therefore, valid? Perhaps, this is just the researcher in me that ignites these questions. My research aptitude is extremely applicable in professional life as well. It allows me to dig deeper, strategize better, and take calculated risks that inspire innovation.

Lesson # 2: The Power of Mentorship & Collaboration
I attended a university that is known to be a party school. By association, many assume that I’ve done my fair share of partying. Truthfully, I never had the chance to attend those keg parties and drunken nights at the club. This was my version of a college party: Countless exams to grade, 3 cups of coffee in before holding office hours, plethora of essays to write, several research experiments to conduct, and endless of data to analyze. Clearly, I missed out on the fun college life people often talk about. Instead of being catcalled by overly intoxicated frat guys with cheesy pick-up lines at the bar, I was able to gain the respect of distinguished college professors in a setting that cannot be replicated by any career path outside of academia.

While most people in my year go out, I often found myself in a science laboratory conducting research (happily, mind you) or digging articles on cognition and memory. I was too antsy to wait for another cognition lecture—I wanted to know more, and I wanted to know now. This is when I realized that scientific research is a passion of mine. Every seemingly dumb question I have, is taken seriously by my academic professors. My professors became my mentors, confidants, and friends. They help shaped an innocuous curiosity into a lifelong passion. They have inspired me to be better, be curious, and to go after what seems to be unattainable.

I’ve also learned the value of collaboration through academic research. Being a part of several research labs allowed me to work with some of the best students in my university—to advance our scientific understanding and contribute to our field. Collaboration generates new ideas, foster new relationships, and bridges the gap between the unknown and scientific progress. To this day, some of my closest friends were people from my research lab (shout of to VROM lab). We bonded through the ups and downs of the research process and our quest to scientific discovery.

Lesson # 3: Embracing the Unknown, Resilience, and Adaptability
If you know me personally, you’ll know that I’m a huge planner. I need to know all the minute details—Who, what, where, when, why, and how. I like to minimize the uncertainty and gain control of the situation by knowing. However, we all know this isn’t always feasible, each and every time. Academic research has taught me to embrace the unknown. In fact, we live for the unknown. Embracing the unknown and our journey to unfolding the facts is what makes it all worth it. There’s something exciting about the fact that all the countless hours in the lab may or may not support our hypothesis. Regardless of the results, we always learn a valuable lesson: Either we discover new information that can help us pioneer, or we learn to become resilient and adaptable. We get back up after a fall, erase what we already “know,” and tackle the problem differently.

College is NOT a requirement for a successful and happy life. The ultimate lesson here is to reach for your goals and dreams, no matter how unconventional the route is. I For me, college is more than a resume-builder. No amount of money or career experience could replace that for me. College is a journey, an awakening that allowed me to discover my dreams, passion, and the values I believe in. And that, is priceless.


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