When I was younger, people called me the “art kid.” I distinctly remember the first job I ever wanted to be was an interior designer. I drew lopsided houses in school and haphazardly scribbled drawings to proudly present to my kindergarten teacher, who graciously accepted them with a smile. While my desire to be an interior designer I soon realized that most real-life houses were a lot more boring :( my hobby of drawing didn’t. I joined window painting, started sketching everyday after school, spent all my money on art supplies, and absolutely adored my art teacher.
At a certain point, though, I started being coined the “reading kid.” I read books with friends in which is as nerdy as it sounds and even which will thankfully never be read by anyone . Even though I didn’t share my book blog with anyone except my family, it was clear that I loved to read. English became my favorite class, and I remember my teachers affectionately teasing me about reading more words that I spoke. As a shy kid, they weren’t necessarily wrong, but I didn’t mind—I liked the way that new words rolled off my tongue.
When I tell people these stories of younger me, they almost always tell me they’re surprised I ended up in science. They tell me that they’re equally surprised I attend a technical school like MIT. Truthfully, I’m still surprised.
In ninth grade, I transferred from my local public school of 800+ students to a private school with and 24 kids in my graduating class :0 total. I entered 9th grade with some of my favorite hobbies, art and reading, but started becoming more interested in science after taking AP Biology in 10th grade. Then, one summer, I got my first taste of laboratory research and loved it. From there, my interest in science consumed my time that once went towards art or reading. I taught younger students basic research concepts, volunteered at science organizations, and became really close friends with people from these communities. Unlike my other identities, this one felt like it would truly stick. Identities hold complex meanings and varying levels of importance to people, but for me, I’ve always used it as a way to ground myself.
Recently, though, I think I’ve been struggling to identify myself at college, particularly here at MIT. It’s been documented throughout the blogs before that a lot of students enter as the “science kid” or some other variation only to be faced with the realization that a significant portion of the student population are also “science people.” While I knew that I would be surrounded by a vast STEM population, this feeling hit me more suddenly last week.
I was scrolling through different MIT classes, musing over different variations of my Courseroad. I recognized that some classes sounded interesting but almost immediately casted them out of my mind:
Hmm…reading seminars sounds fun, but I don’t think I’m into reading anymore. Looking at the IAP calligraphy course, I thought to myself, I like art, but it’s been a while since I tried calligraphy. I should probably take a biology course instead. It just makes sense.
Later in the night, I recounted these thoughts to a close friend over the phone. I tried to sound offhanded, but I had a nagging feeling of underlying frustration. And then, all of a sudden, it hits me that I am scared.
I am scared of taking a class or activity outside of biology because it is what I’m comfortable with. Strangely enough, though, I am also scared to take Introductory Biology next semester in case I find out that I don’t enjoy the content; I am nervous to start biology research in case I find myself dreading lab days instead of eagerly anticipating them. Somehow, I am equally fearful of trying new activities as I am to sticking to biology. If I lose I know this sounds very dramatic, but I mainly mean this in the sense that a lot of my favorite memories have been through science-related activities. I genuinely loved anything to do with science in high school, and a lot of my best friends are people I've met through some science-related event I will feel more lost that I already am. And where, then, does that leave me?
I talked about these feelings to my friend again the next day:
“I’m not the art kid anymore or the reading kid or the science kid. I know I enjoy all of these things, even if I haven’t created a new piece of art or read a book for enjoyment in a while, but I don’t know how I am supposed to define myself now?”
On the other side of the phone, my friend pauses thoughtfully for a few minutes and then begins to talk. The solution she offers is simple: “Why can’t you be a combination of all of those things?”
It seems so obvious that I almost assume I’ve previously thought and discarded the idea before realizing that I haven’t considered this. I let her suggestion sink in and consider what I genuinely enjoy doing in college today. I used to picture myself only focusing on science-related activities for the sake of maintaining my biology interest, but I’ve realized that they all tie back to some of my old hobbies. I like learning FreeCad in my clubs because it gives me a similar feeling of creative freedom that I enjoyed as a kid through drawing; I primarily like my Engineering Life: Biotechnology and Society not because of the scientific content but because I genuinely enjoy reading our weekly articles.
Here at MIT, I’m learning that I am a collection of all of these pieces. I am still part of the art kid, part of the reading kid, part of the science kid, but I am still learning, and that is okay. I bought new art supplies and have started reading every night before going to sleep; I’m also planning to sign up for a reading-based IAP class. My self-perception will continue to change, but for now, I’ve found comfort in simply doing what I enjoy, regardless of who I choose to identify myself as.
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- I soon realized that most real-life houses were a lot more boring :( back to text ↑
- which is as nerdy as it sounds back to text ↑
- which will thankfully never be read by anyone back to text ↑
- and 24 kids in my graduating class :0 back to text ↑
- Introductory Biology back to text ↑
- I know this sounds very dramatic, but I mainly mean this in the sense that a lot of my favorite memories have been through science-related activities. I genuinely loved anything to do with science in high school, and a lot of my best friends are people I've met through some science-related event back to text ↑
- Engineering Life: Biotechnology and Society back to text ↑