In which I ditch my degree and move across the country.

I graduated.

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It’s a weird feeling. I’m done college. I’m supposed to go find work. Get my own apartment. Start a 401k. Be a grown-up and all that. That’s the general plan for college graduates, right?

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So, last February, I started looking for employment. I attended job fairs, sought advice from my career office, and sent my resume out to dozens of employers. You know the drill.

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All so I could start my exciting future as a full-fledged adult.

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With a bachelor’s degree in biology, I was likely to get some sort of lab technician job. You know, pipetting, running gels, growing cell cultures, doing someone else’s experiment for them. I more or less know the drill. I’ve done two co-ops in the pharma industry, and one internship in an academic research lab. Let me just say, I run a mean lab bench.

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So, yeah. Graduating college, getting some lab work. All very exciting stuff.

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It was amidst all my frantic job-hunting that I received this e-mail from Northeastern.

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Seriously, though, what was this? I’ve never taken a class in computer science before.

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The rest of the e-mail went on to describe why computer science was awesome, and why I should accept this spontaneous admission to some random master’s program. I know nothing about coding, but: it’s okay! This particular master’s program is designed for students with no prior programming experience. What’s more, the e-mail was signed by Northeastern’s dean of the College of Computer and Information Science. Northeastern does have a small campus in Seattle, it’s true. Was this legit?

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I guess we were about to find out.

What compelled me to even go to this informational lunch? I’m not sure. Perhaps it was my overwhelming enthusiasm for my future lab job. Or, my love for the study of biology.

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So my friend and I went to the informational lunch. We’re both in the sciences, though, and any good scientist has a healthy amount of skepticism.

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The dean had brought her second-in-command and two current grad students with her. They buttered me, and the handful of students who came, up with food and drink and handshakes and flattery.

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They then proceeded to give us the most enthusiastic pitch I’ve ever seen.

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Unfortunately for them, I wasn’t the only one who came in skeptical. One girl raised her hand and asked,

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I added my thoughts.

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And finally, another girl asked it straight:

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The dean seemed shocked that we thought it was a scam. For her, setting up this program had taken years. But, to us… let’s be real. Out of nowhere, you’re offered admission– and a scholarship– to a master’s program you hadn’t even heard of?

I wanted to cut the crap and hear the real deal. Civilly, of course.

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She went on to explain. Northeastern’s Seattle campus was built only a few years ago. It offers a number of graduate programs, including the master’s of computer science. Northeastern is hoping to grow the Seattle campus to have a couple hundred students, but they’re having trouble.

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The truth comes out: their program needs home-grown females. So, they’re offering us admission and a scholarship. That way, we could go and do the first semester for free. Try it out. If we don’t like it, we can always drop out and go home.

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My friend turned to me.

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If you haven’t seen the Sassy Gay Friend videos, you are missing out.

So, the dean and her crew seemed desperate determined to bring in some local, female students. Not everyone was as keen as they were, though. Take my friend, for instance.

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And this girl.

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They had contacted us too late. It was already April, graduation was approaching, and future plans were already finalized. Except for my own.

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I once again turned to the Sassy Gay Friend.

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Uh-oh.

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I think you can guess what I chose.

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And that’s why, right now, you can find me in Seattle, Washington, starting anew with only my suitcases and my nerves.

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I guess Sassy Gay Friend said it best.

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Let’s see how long I last.

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Art does not compute

I’m all arted out.

Can you tell? You probably can. This blog is usually my creative outlet. The fact that I’ve neglected it for so long means that my artistic energies have been directed elsewhere.

Where, you ask?

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Yeah. In a last-minute, last-year-of-college panic, I decided to declare an art minor.

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Therefore, I’m taking two art classes this semester. One is called “Conceptual Drawing”…

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…and the other is “2D Foundations.”

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This was going to be good. I already knew it.

The first week of class started out slow. The professors kept it basic. My conceptual drawing professor gave us this exercise:

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Uh, sure. I know what that is. Just kidding, I’m a biology student!

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Our first project was to use the marks we made and compose a larger drawing from them. Then, we brought the drawings into class. Each student was asked to explain their work, and then received critique from the professor and students.

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Then, they got to me.

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Ok, ok. If I’m going to do an art minor, I can’t keep using that excuse. But the truth is, I’m used to hearing people talk about supercoiled plasmids, or carbonic anhydrases, or, you know, the oxidation of glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate. I am not used to all this artsy terminology.

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What I especially don’t get is how subjective all of this is. I need numbers! Formulas! I took a color theory class last semester. Our first assignment was to paint a color wheel.

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It’s mostly this conceptual drawing class, really. For some reason, it just doesn’t compute in my head.

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Thus, I tend to take the class too literally.

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Another surprising part of art is how time consuming it is. I mean, I should know that better than anyone—a single blog post usually takes between 6-10 hours to make. The time I usually use to blog has been used for my art projects instead.

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Honestly, it’s more time-consuming than studying for classes! You can often find me in the art studio of my university all day, regretting a particular design choice or composition.

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It’s been crazy. I’ve been straining a completely different part of my brain, a part that I’ve barely flexed before. It’s a stretch, a challenge for someone like me.

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And I totally love it.

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I don’t know how to describe my feelings. Art is different, somehow. There’s the satisfaction of producing something that is completely your own. There’s the frustration of wanting to improve your skills, your ideas, your designs. And there’s the fulfillment of knowing that you made something beautiful. Something that can’t be explained or rationalized, but somehow still has value.

It’s something I’ve never experienced before, in all my years of studying biology—the sense that, for once, I’m doing what I was meant to do.

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It’s not like much has changed, though. I’m still a biology student. I’m still destined to live in a laboratory, pipetting the same liquids into the same machines. Maybe I’ll even get to go to grad school one day, so I can memorize the theory behind enzyme-lined immunosorbent assays or the importance of bovine serum albumin.

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But for now, I have the chance to grasp at what I wish I could be. I’ll learn as much as I can, for as long as it lasts.

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So, if you need me, before I move into the lab—I’ll be living in the art studio, getting paint everywhere.

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Want to see what I’ve been working on in class? Look below, and follow me on Instagram!

10 hours later… Done my #homework. #art #painting #abstract #trippy #whydoidothistomyself

A post shared by Vy (@ithinkincomics) on

 

Help, I’ve fallen and I won’t get up until May 2015.

Schools are always full of sick kids. I mean that literally. College students are stressed, sleep-deprived, and living off canned soup and instant ramen. Then, they get crammed into little classrooms together, where they spend hours coughing and sneezing and trying to understand the exact mechanism of a Hell-Vollard-Zelinsky reaction (whatever that is). Combine that with the freezing, bipolar weather of the US Northeast and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

And I’m part of the problem. I think I’ve been sick lately. Seriously! Call me a hypochondriac, but I’ve been kind of “off” for the last few months. This semester has been unlike any semester I’ve been through before.

You see, before, I was like this:

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Now, I’m like this.

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Before, I used to be on top of my game.

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Now, I’m at the bottom of the 9th inning with 4800 words to go.

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I used to never skip class.

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But this semester, I actually skipped a class. Once. Alright, I’m a huge nerd.

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Maybe I’m getting old. I used to be able to run on five hours of sleep per night.

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Now, I need to sleep. Like, all the time. I even have favorite spots to take naps on campus.

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It’s getting ridiculous. When I went home for Thanksgiving break, I was hoping it would go like this:

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Instead, it was like this:

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I kid you not. On my first evening home, I immediately took a three hour nap. I woke up, attempted to study for about 15 minutes, then went back to bed for another 12 hours.

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What is happening? I used to freak out when assignments piled up.

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But now…

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As for my grades?

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Basically, I give ZERO F#CKS. About ALL the things.

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What is the deal? 

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Some kids get the flu. Some kids get a cold. I’ve been stricken with the most common illness among college seniors…

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Oh, no! This can’t be! Not the dreaded senioritis! There has to be some sort of treatment, right? I consulted the source of all knowledge, Urban Dictionary.

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Looks like I have another semester before I fully recover. Until then…

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Is it Christmas yet?

In which I discover that I’ve learned nothing for the past three years of college.

When I entered college three years ago, I took a free practice MCAT offered by Kaplan.

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Three years later, I took a practice MCAT again. This time, I was trying for real. I had been in college for three years already, so I had to do better– right?

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Apparently not. After three years of schooling, my score raised only by a nominal point.

Unlike during my freshman year, where I could just brush it off…

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…I can’t really ignore it now.

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Since I’m graduating college in a year, I actually have to think about my future now. Part of this has become studying for the MCAT, also known as the Medical College Admission Test. Among all of the grad school exams, the MCAT is particularly notorious. It is long, hard, demands a great deal of memorized knowledge, and is designed to weed out the weak.

The weak, including me.

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So I registered for one of Kaplan’s online MCAT courses.

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I knew that I would have to study hard for this exam. It covers organic chemistry, general chemistry, biology, physics, and verbal reasoning– all subjects that I have struggled with in the past. But I was still a little shocked when I received my Kaplan review books in the mail.

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I was even more shocked when I started to read the material.

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As it turns out, I haven’t learned 50% of the content I’m supposed to know for the MCAT, ever. The other 50% I studied years ago. In between my full-time internship and increasingly time-consuming half-marathon training, I continued to study.

My first MCAT class rolled around.

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Try as I might, I could not keep up.

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But as life got in the way, even the weekends failed me.

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Falling so behind started to get to me.

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There was only one thing to do.

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So now, I’ve bought myself a little more time (literally, as changing your MCAT test date costs $65) to prep for this exam. In other words, I’ve delayed my inevitable collapse until October.

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Maybe I should go into business instead.

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It’s that time of semester again.

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Well, it’s that time of year again: the end of semester, where all your professors think it’s a great idea to make all your reports due at the same time.

I’ll be tackling those reports for the next week…

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…in the hopes of not failing all my classes. Though it’s going to happen anyway. Australian universities are weird.

So if I’m MIA for the next week or two, you know where I am!

(Sorry about that! I have a lot I want to write about Australia, trust me. But grades come first!)

University of Sydney is kicking my booty.

I’m a study abroad student. I’m only going to be in Australia for one semester. And for most one-semester students, there’s a common theme:

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However, Northeastern does not allow me to take all my classes pass/fail. No, every single class I take here will count towards my GPA– and this is a worrying thought.

You see, when you’re not some study abroad student paying out the wazoo to go to school in Australia, the University of Sydney is actually very competitive. USyd falls within the top 50 unis in the world (as opposed to Northeastern, which is still trying to break the top 50 in the USA) and is number 3 in Australia.

So, the school is more competitive, and the students are resultantly smart. But I’m smart too! Right?

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Australian uni culture, as far as I’ve seen, is a little different from the USA. For one, it’s much more independent. Here, kids are expected to sort of figure things out on their own. Great emphasis is placed on the final exam. Professors do not have office hours. And the load is heavier. As a biology major, I’ve found that every single class in bio has a lab, meaning that science kids usually have 4 labs in a single semester. In the States, I’ve been warned not to take more than two.

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And those labs, or as they’re sometimes called, “practicals.” I come from a school where I’m used to it being like this: 

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Here, all my labs are like this: 

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Of course, I might learn more if the university doesn’t hold my hand. On the other hand, I’m totally lost. After I did my first evolutionary genetics lab sans guidance or explanation, I got my grade back:

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And this was after I harassed the lab TA.

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Oh, no.

So far, I’ve been saved by my lab partners, who are usually Australians who actually know what’s happening. Actually, it’s really shocked me at how much they know. You see, I’m used to this: 

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All the students I’ve met here, on the other hand, have been like this: 

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Perhaps I’ve been encountering an odd breed of students, but all the kids I’ve met really love their respective subjects. They often mention truly wanting to learn, and how they aim for the knowledge rather than the grade. As someone who’s hated every course I’ve taken, this concept is foreign to me. I’m impressed, to be honest.

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And I’m also dead. The grading system at the University of Sydney is a little different from the USA. While US unis will often hand out A’s, the University of Sydney grades everything on a bell curve.

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Since I’m surrounded by this incredible population of passionate students, there’s no way I’m reaching that top 3 percent of kids. I’ll be surprised if I get “credit.” Shoot. How am I supposed to keep the minimum 3.5 GPA I need to retain my scholarship?

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So maybe I’m not so screwed after all?

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Ok, ok, I kid. I’m still super-worried about my classes. But, instead of this: 

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I’ve downgraded to this: 

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It’s an improvement.

I feel like a freshman again.

I successfully survived the first week of schooling here at the University of Sydney. Survive does not equal aced, though.

You see, the University of Sydney is a big place. The main campus is spread across two suburbs , Camperdown and Darlington. This is because the school caters to about 50,000 students, quite a bit more than Northeastern’s humble 13,000.

In fact, the typical Australian university (or, “uni,” as they like to abbreviate it here) is a bit different from American unis. We can observe one such difference from a sampling of my conversations with USyd students:

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In the US, college is almost equated to independence. Kids graduate high school and move out, often to schools hours away. In Australia, it’s much more typical for kids to live at home and commute to their local university. A daily commute of an hour or more is normal.

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But I digress. The University of Sydney is huge, and its campus is suitably large as well. And since I have a terrible sense of direction, this did not bode well for my first day of classes.

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The campus is so big that asking for directions from students might not result in success.

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Or faculty members, for that matter.

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Luckily for me, Australians are laid-back. They’re rather famous for it. So my professor didn’t care when I burst into his class…

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…20 minutes after it started.

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And that’s how I showed up to my first class 40 minutes late.

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Dayum, USyd. You big! 

Perhaps USyd’s large size also has to do with its age. The University of Sydney is the oldest uni in Australia and is resultantly home to the oldest buildings in Australia, which Asian tourists love to come and photograph. Like me.

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So, when was this grand university established?

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As fond as I am of Northeastern’s campus, it’s pretty neat to go to a school that looks like the set of Harry Potter. There’s even a Quidditch team!

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This will be an interesting semester.

People like to tell me what to do with my life.

Since I discovered that I’m graduating way too soon and now that I’ve been working at a company full of 40-somethings with children, I’ve received a lot of advice.

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It seems like everyone has something to say to a young whippersnapper like me. A bunch of the PhD’s at my workplace have, at some point, sat me down and given me the story of their life. Which is fine. I could use some guidance right now.

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The problem is that I’ve received a lot of conflicting advice. My younger peers tend to think differently from the old dude chemists at work.

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I thought for a moment that maybe it was a generation thing. The older generation has a different perspective on life, yeah? But then my old advice-givers started sounding like my younger ones…

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…and vice versa…

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At the very least, they all agree on one thing.

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Unless it’s my family. In that case, it becomes

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Ok, well, my family doesn’t think much like anyone at all.

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Ah, Asian families. At any rate, I know that just a bachelor’s in biology won’t get me anywhere. Thus I have the Princeton GRE study guide at the moment. It’s sitting on my bed, reminding me of my impending graduation and the very real possibility of failure.

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All this advice has really put me in a muddle. Every person has the best of intentions. Every person thinks they have it all figured out. Every day brings me a step closer to becoming a lost college grad. (Which, at this point, I’m pretty convinced is what I’ll become.) My co-op has mostly taught me that the 9-5 cubicle life is not ideal, so I’m back right where I started.

In the end, the only person who can decide what to do with my life is me. Because I’m the one living it. At the end of it all, I’m the one who has to decide.

So I have to take a good, long look at my options. I need a little introspection. I need to… follow my heart.

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Next year is gonna be good.

Too fast, too furious

Anyone who I’ve come in contact with for the last week knows: I’m in panic mode.

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Why? Well, I called my academic advisor the other day to clear my classes for next semester. I’m trying to study abroad. All the classes I chose were fine, they would count for credit, okay. But then, at the end of the conversation, she said something very unsettling.

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Excuse me?

In about a year, I would have to get cleared for graduation? Say what now? My brain short-circuited. For the next minute, I could only form one thought.

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I didn’t know what to do. I’ve only been in college for two years, or four semesters. And I’ve only taken classes for three of those semesters. I’m graduating in 5 semesters– 2 and a half years of schooling– which means I’ll be out and about in the real world before I turn 21.

So, yeah.

I freaked out.

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I’m just completely and utterly bewildered. Do I start looking at grad schools now? Do I start studying for the GRE’s? I’ve never befriended a professor, so I’m in no position to get good recommendations. I want to do something that I will like, will love, even, something that will make me happyBut if I knew what that was– well, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

My impending graduation feels some sort of giant freight train that is inevitably going to smash me to pieces.

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Am I really supposed to know what I want to do? Is anyone supposed to know? All my friends seem to be pre-med or computer science or engineering or pharmacy and they all have their lives planned out in a neat little Excel spreadsheet. My family always urges me to have a plan. A plan for success. A plan to ensure your financial stability. Having a plan helps secure your future, I don’t doubt that.

But how do you have a plan when you don’t have some higher calling? How do you have a plan when you haven’t “found yourself?” How do you have a plan when you have no particular, spectacular talents?

I’ve been freaking out to everyone. My friends are probably sick of my complaining by now. I told my sister. Now, my readers. I called my dad.

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I guess the only way to move is forward.

I will never be an organic chemist, but I sure can draw spoons and cups. (Things I learned in college)

I’M DONE FOR THE SEMESTER!

I’m done. I’M DONE! And I will be for quite a while, since next semester I won’t be taking classes. Instead, I’ll be on co-op full-time.

Which I might as well be. This semester has burned me out. 

The classes were harder, everything was time-consuming, I took on too many part-time jobs again…

But it’s fine! Because college is a learning process, and I sure did learn a lot!

THINGS VY LEARNED THIS SEMESTER

In her advanced writing class:

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In her genetics class:

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In her organic chemistry class:

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Alright, so that may be an exaggeration. (Besides organic chemistry.) But to be honest, I really only enjoyed one class this semester. Of course, it was the class that had nothing to do with my major at all: Drawing Foundations 1. But it was that class that I feel as though I learned the most!

I think.

THINGS VY LEARNED FROM HER DRAWING CLASS

How to draw a naked old woman.

Remember this lady? Well, here are the results of my labor!

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(My parents: “Why is she so saggy?” Me: “WHY DO YOU THINK?”)

How to draw lots and lots of kitchen utensils.

I refuse to draw another goshdarn cooking tool for at least a month. Here’s why:

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I AM NEVER DRAWING ANOTHER SPOON, CUP, OR BOTTLE AGAIN.

Charcoal is the silliest drawing medium out there.

…because every time I use it, I end up looking like this:

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Okay, I did learn real things, I swear. I improved! I really did! I mean, my self portraits went from this

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to this:

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Also, I can draw imaginary cities now!

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Really, though, this is the class that was the most… fulfilling to me, I guess. All my biology classes are full of boring, Powerpoint lectures, useless memorization, and seemingly pointless information. They’re challenging, but for the wrong reasons. My art class pushed me out of my comfort zone, forced me to think and draw in ways I hadn’t before. It was tough, and at times I wanted to give up– I even considered dropping the class– but in the end I really tried hard to produce good drawings.

It was worth it, I suppose.

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Happy holidays, everyone!