All my life I have been surrounded by people who told me NOT to be normal. I was told THE most successful people in the world do not think normal, they think outside of the box. Yes, they listen to what people say, and may take suggestions and directions. However, they went with their gut feeling, thought differently, and followed their passion when others said to be “realistic, logistical, BE NORMAL.”
When I first started at UCLA, I had professors tell me that I should research what I wanted to research, which was parasitism in crocodilians. They said to research something easy, not something no one has looked at. Who is interested in the research of parasites in crocodilians anyways? That’s not going to get money and probably won’t get published. I even had some speak to me as if I should study something more “feminine.” I couldn’t believe everything I was hearing. I thought I would be supported to study something unknown, to get out of the norm. They always told us PhD candidates to think outside of the box, and here I was, following their advice, yet getting shot down. Luckily I have taken after my grandfather, and am VERY STUBBORN. Not only am I stubborn, it’s been drilled into me to follow my passion, if you do what you love, you will make a career out of it and be successful.
Luckily, I did not listen to the majority of “experts” and continued to follow my passion, my scientific curiosity and dream. Besides some people telling me I couldn’t do it, I was fortunate to have many professors who saw my determination and passion and believed I could accomplish anything. And surprise- I received over 15 research and travel grants, I received 2 years of fellowship from UCLA and received the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. I never paid for my research out of my own pocket, and school was completely paid for – and all of this was based on investigating crocodilian parasitism. Because of my accomplishments and research, I was one of two student marshals for the PhD Commencement Ceremony at UCLA. I currently have received an NSF postdoctoral fellowship to continue the investigation of crocodilian parasitism. Luckily for me, I’m living my dream and studying what I want, and it’s because I followed my passion and didn’t listen to people who told me I couldn’t.
So, now I am about to publish a paper that illustrates the uniqueness of crocodilian parasitism. The biology and physiology of crocodilians is so unique compared to other living vertebrate, and that scientific paradigm is well accepted among the scientific community- why can’t its relationship with parasites be just as unique? I’ve talked with parasitologists of what I am finding, and they are telling me no, it can’t be, it doesn’t follow the norm of parasitology. But the science of my research is telling me different. I know its going to be difficult to accept what me and my colleagues are finding, because it is so different than other parasitology studies. And that’s ok… I’m use to being different.
As I continue to speak and mentor young scientists, I am a big advocate of pursuing research that interests you. I love to spread quotes like these by Albert Einstein:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”