April 7th, 2021


It was December of 2019. The ground was full of snow, my student home looked like a
holiday store exploded in it, and peculiar news was circulating after a mystery disease infected a
Wuhan, China local who ate a bat; we thought it was probably fake news…
The year was coming to a close, and so was the second last semester of my undergraduate
career. Of course, my mind was tossing and turning between excitement and denial. My four
years at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, shaped me into the person I have become. The
thought of starting a new journey at a new school had already crossed my mind but moving on so
soon felt as if I was cheating on the very place that I was lucky to call home. Not to mention that
my brain was fried after so many early mornings and late nights at the library, drowning myself
in coffee.

Taking a break from academics was a foreign concept that required a great deal of
consideration. I researched all the schools in Canada looking for the perfect program until one
day, my curiosity led me to the Biotechnology and Entrepreneurship master’s program webpage
at NYU. Needless to say, I fell in love with the program in an instant. I started imagining the
possibility of this new life; however, the idea did not go further. While my family was extremely
supportive of my goals, they were not quick to send me off to another country without first
applying to Canadian programs. With my lack of excitement towards what other schools had to
offer, I had decided to hold off on applying to a master’s program and take time away from

In a search for a new plan, I started talking with friends about travelling the following
year. We stayed up late talking about all the places we will get to tour as school became more
distant in my mind. At the age of 21, travelling with my best friends across the globe was a
pretty easy fix to overcoming my fear of taking a break from studying. In Thailand, tanning on
the beach, volunteering in elephant sanctuaries, hiking through wild forests – sounds good to me!
After months of debates and contemplations, everything was finally falling into place, and I
could not be happier. Until…

March 13th, 2020 – the beginning of the unpredictable.

My undergraduate university decided to shut down in preparation for remote learning. At
the time, I had decided to stay in my student home to celebrate what I thought was an extra
reading week with my friends. However, all the fun and games transposed into a red light in my
future plans. I was jobless, travelling was no longer a reliable option, and I had no idea what to
do at the end of my fourth year – which, might I add, was a month and a half away. The anxiety
slowly crept in. I started researching the virus more each day, wishing I could fight against it.
But how?

It was that moment when I realized I had to go back to school. I am a scientist – THIS is
the time for me to contribute to the world. Sadly, it took a global crisis and lack of plans to shake
me, but at that point, it was too late. I had not applied to a master’s program, and I lacked the
skills and qualifications for any job I found in the biotechnology field.

One afternoon, I received a call from my aunt, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute in Albany, New York. She had asked what my plans were for next year as a graduate,
and I was embarrassed when telling her that I had none. That call had changed everything. My
aunt informed me that her university accepted late applicants due to the effects of COVID-19
and urged me to inquire if NYU was doing the same. Within one week, I found myself back in
Toronto with my application to NYU well on its way, and one hell of a surprise for my parents,
who had no idea I even applied.

Fast forward two more weeks – the CDC had already declared the pandemic, the world
had gone virtual, social distancing was the new motto, and I was sitting on the floor of my
bedroom staring at an acceptance letter to NYU with my name on it. Before even having time to
process everything, my parents were already on the phone with my grandparents, running around
the house cheering for their “little scientist” with pride. With my family’s excitement and
support, including my great uncle, an NYU alumnus who praised the school, I was finally within
reach of my goals. All of a sudden, I possessed a beam of light in a world filled with so much
darkness. It was my first time feeling so proud of myself – I was ready to take on this new

It is December again. The end to the longest, most challenging year. I am at home in
Toronto, surrounded by my incredible family, concluding my first semester as a graduate student
at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and studying in a program that feels as if it was made for
me. I am working as a research assistant at the Montclare Lab that not only is partaking in the
fight against COVID-19 but many other health issues that society has been battling for years. I
have the pleasure of learning from brilliant scientists every day who continue to shape me
beyond what I thought was possible. If I was told last December where I would be right now, I
would have laughed and denied it. I did not believe I would find success this quickly, nor did I
see myself in New York City. Through enduring the sadness and frustrations this year’s events
have brought, I learned to close my eyes and jump – accept the unknown – and fight against the
obstacles that face before me. My journey to graduate school and my time in it have taught me
that it is up to me to control my dreams. Putting up walls when things get tough might help at the
moment but taking action will change the outcome. All I have to do is roll with the punches.

-Neta Benor