This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.
Ted Zhu will be a junior at Walnut High School. He works in Dr. Ren-Jang Lin’s lab, where he is designing a site-specific nuclease to study stem cell differentiation problems in myelodysplasia, a form of blood cancer. Ted loves watching sports; his favorite teams are the Steelers, Seahawks, Angels, and Lakers. He also loves nature and enjoys studying forestry as one of his hobbies.
I have an “addiction” to science. It’s that feel-good, bubbly rush of euphoria that shoots across my body, giving me tingling sensations across my arm and a light-headed feeling that makes me feel like I’m floating among the clouds.
“I’ve got it!”
Man, how I love science.
Get the good grades, get the good college, get the good job, and get the big bucks. That’s more or less the mantra that’s been instilled upon my fellow students and me in high school. But there are only so many spots in good colleges and companies, and so naturally, getting those spots entails intense competition. We scratch and claw to get those 4.0’s and 2400’s and fight our way to rack up numerous awards in our attempts to impress admissions officers and prospective employers. And while we absolutely hate the sleepless nights spent studying and stressing, we’re always hit upside the head as we realize that if we want to get the good college, the good job, and the big bucks, we’ve gotta chug on in this slugfest.
But maybe there’s another path to getting the good college and the good job? Or maybe the final end goal isn’t to get big bucks? It’s actually to be happy? Just simply, happy?
Dr. Eugene Roberts probably knows a bit about being happy. At 93 years old, the esteemed director emeritus of neurobiochemistry of City of Hope and founder of this great summer program that I’m a part of here at City of Hope, says the only reason why he still works here is because he’s always discovering more in his lab, and that learning process, quite simply, makes him happy.
The seminal moment of my summer internship so far was hearing Dr. Eugene Roberts talk with Dr. Mark Wise, a professor of theoretical physics at Caltech. Essentially, the topic at hand was “Why do I love science?” And these two great minds, these two great geniuses both pointed to the same reason: that “aha!” moment, that lightbulb moment when our breakthroughs in the lab provide a glimpse, no matter how big or how small, into our understanding of how the world functions. And it’s that lightbulb moment that lights us up to give us that rush of euphoria and burst of joy that nothing else can bring. As soon as they mentioned that feeling, I could identify with what they meant.
For me, it extends a bit past that as well. I constantly feel that I have a duty, as a human being, to aid my fellow human beings who need help. Watching my own parents suffer through cancer for the last 5 years has left an indelible mark in my mind on the horrors of what cancer can bring. And so I am committed to being a part of the process that may someday rid the world of those horrors I experienced.
Furthermore, I’ve been lucky and privileged enough to have been blessed with scores of opportunities to help me pursue my passion of science. And as people give me these opportunities that I so desperately want and need to keep voracious appetite of learning sated, I feel obliged to pass on the love. Whenever I feel crushed by the mind-boggling stress or frustration of failure in my lab, I remind myself that somewhere out there in the world, some destitute, starving, and emaciated kid could be the next Richard Feynman or Jonas Salk were he or she given the chance. I’ll also then remind myself that what I do may be able to help future physicians and researchers save a life someday or ease the pain for some chronically afflicted patient. And just that once life that can be changed will be worth every single hair-tearing moment I have, or ever will experience.
I think I’ve finally come to the trite but true realization that maybe what really matters is not the money and the prestige (or in my case right now, the grades and awards), but doing something I really love and care about. It is doing omething that satisfies both my intellectual side and my emotional side. I’m constantly reminded that being a researcher won’t earn me much money, but I honestly couldn’t give a lab rat’s fart about how much money I’ll make as a researcher. As long as I love it, and I can (somewhat) adequately pay off my future bills and provide for my parents, then I think that’ll be the life for me.
Initially, I applied to City of Hope because I thought it would look great on my college applications. But as the summer comes to a close, I realize I’ve enjoyed my time here at City of Hope this summer for all the reasons I’ve just mentioned above. And what’s given me an immense satisfaction is that I’ve enjoyed working here because I love it.
Not because Harvard will love it.
Thanks Dr. Roberts and Dr. Wise.
Ted submitted this video about his summer: