Since the age of 16, I have known my way around a research lab and understand research jargon. I have familiarised myself with the research life, where everything you do is highly dependent on your cells (your babies) and the experiments you do with them. You never leave your experiment without a timer and when it rings, RUN. Otherwise that experiment you’ve paid thousands for and have been working on for the entire week would’ve been all for nothing. Or when you successfully get your results and realise that you’ve contaminated the sample?… There can be no greater research pain. It’s happened to all of us, and I know that you who are reading this who have done research before can relate.
Self-proclaimed nerd since 2010, at my first lab internship as a 16-year old at Stockholm University
However there is one thing that has been harder to get used to. In every research group I have been in, I have always been the youngest.
As a high school student and later medical student in my early years, it was hard for me to enter a group of people who were in average normally 10 years older. All incredibly intelligent, talented and experienced, not only in what they were working with but in life too. They were in much different stages in their lives than I was. Married with their own families, sometimes with children my age. They had their lives established already with fancy titles beside their names…. and I was always just Sam.
I often felt lonely. How could I relate to these people? These people who are all so amazing, how could I match with them? I always looked up to them, and was often intimidated. Would I even be able to say anything smart and mature for them to see me as a peer? I didn’t want to risk it, so most of the time I just sat quietly and did my work until the day was over. Until now.
Since February, I have belonged to a research group in Linköping University working on colorectal cancer. Two days ago, I have finally signed my contract as a Research Engineer for the university. In my research group, I’m the only one without a Dr. title in front of my name – where all are medical doctors with years of experience (doctors/surgeons with MDPhDs mainly) except for my project partner who’s a postdoc from medical sciences, which is why they paired me with him. Two days ago, I found out that he has photographic (eidetic) memory.
Yes, I have asked myself several times – what am I doing here. If there is one group that I should feel most intimidated by, it would be this one. But rather, I could have never asked for a better group to work in. Despite being the least qualified in the group, somehow, I still feel that I belong. It was only in this group where I realised that if amazing, talented colleagues of mine see me as a peer and believe that I can contribute and belong to the group, I should believe so too.
Being surrounded by intelligent people on an everyday basis is definitely a humbling experience. Like before, I still often feel small, but now instead of questioning my own abilities, I ask my colleagues about theirs. I am given the unique opportunity to learn from the best, for me to improve my own abilities. I get inspired to dare to dream for my own ambitions, from those who already are exceeding theirs.
I have been blessed with amazing colleagues who I am looking forward to working with for the year(s) to come. They taught me that having big crazy dreams is good, because they do too. So together we dream and work for something as crazy as even finding the cure for cancer. Who knows, maybe someday we will!
Introducing my research group from our dinner at 1853 in Linköping! Dr. everyone but me 😀