Occasionally, people ask me about what motivated me, and when did I start thinking about graduate school. This question comes up whenever I deliver talks for school career days or at conferences. At scientific conferences, graduate students are the most curious ones. This post will shed some light on my answers.
What I love
Science is one of my major passions. From the early days of my childhood until now, I am thrilled to read about scientific discoveries and the human mind. I cannot remember what I was doing when the first man landed on the moon (I was very young back then), but I do remember vividly the discussion with my science teacher years later when I was in the eighth grade: Is it true we can remotely control the space shuttle? That was my simple question. My teacher answered happily by talking for 30 minutes, explaining how our life would be filled with excitement, new discoveries, new breakthroughs – after all, the United States had succeeded in sending Neil Armstrong to the moon. That day chills and excitement ran through my body preventing me from sleeping that night. What a thrill, I told myself. I am going to be a scientist one day.
What I hate
The second milestone, shaping my life, was working as a laborer: watering cinderblocks in a marina when I was a teenager. On hot summer days after school had ended for the summer, I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m., wait for a minibus for 20 minutes, ride the bus with the real workers for one hour to the marina — all the while not being able to breathe because of the cigarette smoke and the smell of unwashed bodies. To add to my misery, my boss was heartless and without mercy. This was a reality check for a 15-year-old boy at that time. (Don’t ask about child labor laws in those days!) He constantly complained about my work. If the truth be told, I was not an easy teenager to begin with, very argumentative. As a result, after six weeks of working as a cinderblock water boy, I was never promoted to water newly made cinderblocks due to their sensitivity to water pressure — if you are not careful you can ruin them. The temperature, a high of 122° F, took the juice out of my soul. At that temperature it is hard to stand for even ten minutes in direct sun. Because of the amount of pain during that summer break, I decided then that I would never … ever stop studying. I would study even for 20 hours a day if I had to, so I would never ever work under the heat of the sun.
In conclusion, both of these simple experiences created my drive to follow my passion and to pursue science, eventually finishing my Ph.D. in Microbiology and Cell Molecular Biology. The day I successfully defended my dissertation, I dropped some tears, tears for joy, tears of celebration, and tears of achievement. So my motivation for higher education was created by two factors: love for science and the pain of working in the sun. Most of us should discover what motivates us. The discovery would uncover your motivation which might be a mixture of two opposite poles of human feeling: pleasure and pain. If you are teenager or you are in your twenties, try experimenting with many things until you find the pleasure and pain. Combine the two experiences and you will find your motivation.