Scholar Voices: Discovering a New Path to Career Success
Ever since I was a little boy, I loved science. Although I come from a rural, mountainous Chinese village called Qian Yang Cun in Fuzhou, I dreamt of becoming a scientist. I always knew I wanted to use science to help people. As a child, I would collect plants and soil from around the mountain and mix them together to create my own “panaceas,” ready to cure dying plants and insects along my path.
When I was 11 years old, I immigrated with my family to Silver Spring, Maryland, in search of better opportunities and education for my sister and me. While the drastic cultural and political differences between this foreign country and my little village in China shifted many of my beliefs and views, the one thing that never changed was my passion for science.
When I first came to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 2017 as a biochemistry student, I immediately joined two research labs. The first lab focused on bacteriophages that can be used to fight bacterial infections and combat antibiotic resistance. The other lab focused on drug targeting and delivery, specific to cancer cells using a pH-sensitive protein (pHLIP). I spent at least 10 hours a week in the labs and occasionally had to stay past midnight to finish my experiments.
Despite all my hard work, I felt my life was missing something important, something that makes my life feel more meaningful. I started to question my future goal of becoming a scientist. I reached out to my mentor Kenneth Frank, who I was paired with when I first became an Earl Woods Scholar. Ken, who I can always count on to give me solid advice, asked me some critical questions that guided me to start reflecting on all the choices I have made so far that led me to where I am today.
I realized I missed helping and working with people directly. I still love learning science and working with my hands, but what made me feel like my life is meaningful is the ability to help people directly. I started exploring other career options and I realized dentistry could be a great fit for me because I get to work with patients directly using my hand dexterity skills and apply my science background. I am currently shadowing a couple of dentists and volunteering at a dental clinic, and everything just feels right.
Outside of class, I work as a chemistry tutor to help students prepare for the challenging classes at Lehigh. Additionally, and equally important to me, I serve as a mentor to incoming first-generation and low-income first-year students. I organize monthly meetings, both individual and group, with my family of students to make sure everyone is adjusting to college well and has all the resources they need to succeed. From sharing our experiences together, I noticed a common theme among first-generation college students is the lack of knowledge in all of the career options available out there. With this is mind, I always remind people to explore and try out new things while they can in college.
While it might seem minor, making the career goal change from being a scientist to a dentist was one of the hardest and scariest decisions I had to make. I feared I would disappoint others and myself for giving up my goal so easily. It took me many sleepless nights to reflect on my past and be completely honest with myself to realize that I am not a quitter and that there is so much more out there for me to explore and pursue. After all, my family sacrificed so much and immigrated overseas just so I could choose from all these options. College, after all, is about discovery and I encourage everyone to step outside of their comfort zone to explore all their potentials and career options while in college.
Redefining what it means to be a champion.