Hi again, after an extended hiatus...
IB Honors is almost over. Well, the core is at least. It's weird to say that... I feel like college didn't really start until IBH did. It's been a rocky road but I'm so happy with the results. I view it as a shaping process - we were put out of our comfort zone and had to change who we were to manage in the new environment. It was really hard at first but being on this side of the hurdle, with only a few requirements and some relatively easy 400-level IB classes left to take, I can't help but feel like I'm ready to take on whatever I launch myself into after college, be it grad school, volunteering, or some avenue completely unrelated. If I can get through IB Honors, I feel I can handle whatever is thrown at me.
Speaking of what's on the horizon, I'm not really sure (though I doubt anyone is, especially at this point of our lives). I switched from the Sears lab to the Bell lab and have found an area of biology I really love - behavior - and I can't wait to work on my own research. I'm interested in social behavior (e.g. how can an ant colony consisting of potentially thousands of individuals operate without a true central intelligence?), tool use (what combination of genes allow crows the mental capacity to use tools but not other species?), and learning (one study Dr. Suarez told me about involved teaching one crow how to use a particular tool and then watching how long it took for other crows in the vicinity to learn how to use the tool just by watching). Working in the Bell lab is interesting enough, but to be in charge of my own project, with my own species of interest and exact project framework I want... well, let's just say I've already browsed my fair share of grad schools' biology faculty and started rehearsing the 50 most common vocab words on the GRE.
At the same time, though, I entered U of I an English major and still have a dream to publish a novel. Free from hours of classes, homework, and labwork, why not explore avenues of my life that I turned down for biology? What about taking a year, volunteering for part of it, and then getting a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle or some other place far from home, working at Starbucks during the day and then at night cranking out this novel I've had in my head for the last year (and am trying to write every day)? In other words... why do I have to start the rest of my life now? Grad school is a tremendous commitment and doesn't allow much time for outside interests (i.e. writing a novel). And call me paranoid, but I don't think I've met a single person in grad school who isn't in a committed relationship or married. Trying to explain to my significant other that I "just want to work at Starbucks in California and work on this story I've been writing... you know?" when she wants to settle down doesn't seem like it'll work out very well.
Taking a year off might be the hardest thing I've ever done but I feel like I won't be completely satisfied if I don't. I love biology and can't wait to dedicate my life to trying to unravel its mysteries, but what about everything else? Maybe this is a hippie thought, but I've had this desire to... give thanks to what has been given to me. Karate changed my life - it gave me the tools to defend myeslf but more importantly it gave me self confidence, discipline, and taught me respect. Part of me wants to go to Okinawa, the birthplace of Shotokan karate, and... I don't know. Pay my respects. Say thank you. I feel the same way about Poland. I'm 100% Polish - I consider myself American but in the end I am completely Polish - but I have done nothing to Poland besides visit family there. I want to get a job there for a little while, basically give something back to Poland. And even considering what biology has taught me, I want to give back to the Earth by volunteering with conservation or helping underpriviledged children in other countries. I'm not saying I'll definitely go to Okinawa, Poland, or a country in South America or Africa, but taking a year off at least gives me the opportunity to give back in some way, whatever it may be.
And then, of course, grad school. :-)
I'll keep writing in this... part of me wishes I could just see an entry in this blog from two years down the road, where I'll be halfway through this potentially crazy gap year. But then again... with everything I could cram into a whole year, maybe the real excitement lies in the unknown.
IBH students travel the world, publish research papers, and do all sorts of amazing things