August 5th, 2019

My Unexpected Venture into Science
By: Julia Monkovic

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Every time I visited my grandparents’ house as a kid, I was always a little scared to go into my grandpa’s office because of a giant picture of what I thought was a bug hanging on the wall. Closely followed by my dad, I grew up thinking my grandpa was the smartest person in the world. What I didn’t know about them was their common passion for STEM – both of them are chemists. Years later, this childhood vision still holds true. As it turns out, that big picture of a bug is actually the structure of an organic molecule my grandpa synthesized that’s now being used as a nausea treatment for chemotherapy patients. Starting with him and passing through my dad, science has crawled through my family and somehow made its way to me – something I never would’ve guessed just a couple of years ago.

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Despite the amount of science present in my family, as I grew older I became more and more resistant toward the field. In high school, my interests circled around reading and playing the flute – I didn’t enjoy the science classes I took, finding them boring, intimidating, and not for me. So in my senior year of high school when it came time to deciding what to study in college, my friends were so shocked I chose to go into engineering they thought I was pranking them. I laughed along with them, while at the same time being driven by fear, the unknown, and a spark of passion to create change.

That spark started not by any positive inspiration or revelation, but through a moment of frustration and despair as I watched a seemingly incurable disease take over my brother’s life. One evening while my family had another argument over which medicine or doctor to try next, I wanted to take matters into my own hands and went to Google to search for other forms of treatment available to my brother. Despite the great successes and advances in the medical field of recent decades, through this experience I felt incredibly frustrated with it at the same time. Many confusing articles later, I stumbled across biomedical engineering. At that time my feelings of anger and defeat turned into ones of pressing eagerness, as I began to believe that pursuing this field was how I could make a change in the lives of my brother and those like him.

Through this experience science began to mean more to me than just a sector of subjects in school. Rather, it’s a way of thinking that we have the potential to help heal and improve the lives of people around the world. It can give us optimism and hope in times of despair and allow us to come together to work collaboratively towards our goals, as science is a team sport rather than an individual one. Science isn’t about memorizing formulas or reaction mechanisms: it’s about asking your own questions, developing your own theories, and eventually finding your own answers to the unknown. Growing up I always felt like science “wasn’t for me,” but over time I’ve realized that science encompasses everything we do, and therefore it’s naturally a part of me.

This transition into STEM was anything but easy. Because of my lack of a science background I was worried people wouldn’t take me seriously. I was hesitant to ask questions in class for fear of sounding stupid and still struggle a lot with confidence. I gain inspiration and confidence to persist through the encouragement of my family and friends, along with the great opportunity to work in a lab that designs ways to help fight diseases like my brother’s.

As I said earlier, science is not something that can be done alone: I’m thankful for my dad and granddad for giving me a platform to grow from, and for my mentors and professors for taking a chance on me and seeing the potential in me before I saw it in myself. I now know that in order to go into the sciences, you don’t have to be the “smartest person in the world.” All it takes is a strong support group and that one spark of ambition to create change.

-Julia Monkovic