Erin Cadwalader earned her Ph.D. in neurobiology, studying why knocking out a gene that modifies sugars on the surface of cells causes zebrafish embryos to explode a few hours later. She’s also a founder and contributor to the blog, To Science With Love. We’re so pleased that she and her co-founders have used our Letter to My Young Self as inspiration for their first entry.
It gets better. I know you feel lost and adrift. But it’s only another year. One of the best things about college and graduate school is that everyone wants to be in those classes. Otherwise they don’t show up. That is one thing to look forward to. That, and freedom from high school.
The awards you are most embarrassed by will be the ones you are proudest of a decade and a half later. “Most improved” will mean more because you worked hard, it paid off, and other people recognized this. Most of the time, this will not be the case in life. Hard work is expected, the outcome is its own reward. So be glad that people noticed; it won’t happen often.
Competitive sports are the best thing you could have done for yourself. They taught you leadership, the bitterness of defeat as well as the sweetness of success, how to work with others to achieve a goal, and how to find ways to define yourself beyond the academic. You will suffer injuries, but these are a metaphor for all the other injuries in life. You work hard to come back from them and wind up stronger for it. And it will be a healthy life-long obsession, this exercising business. So when you have hard days, bad days, bad years, you will find a constructive outlet for your stress by putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again. And you will keep moving forward that way.
Unbounded curiosity is your greatest strength. You may know only a little about a lot of things, but it will serve you well when making new friends, trying to develop professional contacts, or just finding ways to keep things interesting in an otherwise dull period in life. Your curiosity and your stubbornness is why you will persevere even when you feel like giving up. One more experiment, just to see if it’s the right path.
Last, have courage to pursue your dreams, take risks, get outside your comfort zone, try new things. Believe in your dreams, even if they sound crazy to everyone else. You are happiest when you are being true to yourself. Don’t be afraid of the fact that people don’t get it. You grow by acknowledging and overcoming obstacles. And the things that scared you the most will be some of the greatest experiences of your life. Sometimes it’s about proving something to yourself, sometimes you just wind up making new friends and meeting interesting people along the way, and sometimes you wind up discovering things about yourself in the process.
Erin Cadwalader, Ph.D., earned her B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Ph.D. in neurobiology from the University of Utah, studying why knocking out a gene that modifies sugars on the surface of cells causes zebrafish embryos to explode a few hours later. She is currently transitioning into the field of science policy and advocacy. In her free time she enjoys hiking, skiing, or curling up with a great book.