2016 Essay Competition - View all entries

Killing Off Possibilities

Sophia Tao - Richmond Hill, Canada

When I applied to university, I was in the same boat as many, many high school students, which meant that I had not the slightest clue what I wanted to do with my life. I was scared of making such a big decision as choosing my major, and beyond that I was terrified of what I liked to call "killing off possibilities". The terrifying truth is that as you grow older, you will face the inevitable, irrevocable need to specialize in order to function as a member of society. You could no longer take all the classes and do everything that you loved; you would have to choose just one thing to excel in. I had the most difficult time picking a major. I wanted to take both physics and English, both mathematics and anthropology—as a kid who loved everything, what was I to do?

I ended up choosing a university program that could accommodate most of my interests. This program is an interdisciplinary science program that does not restrict me to one field; instead, I can learn about all of the different scientific disciplines. Of course, I had to give up a lot of the other things I was interested in, but that was a necessary evil. I could still take courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and earth sciences. It was the perfect program for me, a student who knew she loved learning but did not want to choose one field over the other. Me, a student still in denial about not being able to do everything.

Only once I got to university did I began to have a small inkling of what I wanted to do. I fell in love with the scientific method and the ideal of bringing new knowledge into the world. I want to be in academia. For me personally, a researcher is the most meaningful career that I could choose. Talking to career advisors and taking career aptitude tests only confirmed my decision: I was analytical, meticulous, logical, creative. I liked learning new things. I worked well independently.

Just choosing "research", however, is not good enough. There are many types of researchers. On one side of the spectrum, you have theoretical physicists. On the other, you have geologists who travel the world doing field work. As a student who loved everything and was taking courses in everything, I did not know what I wanted to do research in. It was quite the dilemma.

The answer, however, came to me in my second university year. This was the year wherein I started to take some psychology classes. In all honesty, I took them because they seemed easy enough—and besides, my friends were also taking the course. Little did I know, this little decision would lead to a very major one. Once I started taking psychology courses, school suddenly became fun. I tirelessly looked forward to going to all my psychology classes even when my other classes became stressful and disheartening. And of those classes, I particularly enjoyed my cognitive psychology class. After realizing this, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a researcher in the field of cognitive psychology. If I had to conduct research in this field for the rest of life, so be it.

Fast forward to now: I am currently being trained in a psychology lab researching animal behaviour and cognition. I love the work we do more than anything else and I can honestly say that I am content where I am. Many people told me that choosing a career is a lot of introspection, of thinking about your own interests and your strengths, of weighing your options and doing research on what's out there. Many others told me that choosing a career is a lot of serendipity, when opportunities and experiences and a little bit of luck can lead you onto the right path. So I don't suppose I find it surprising that my choice was a little bit of both.