The day is Thursday, July 1st. 7 A.M. I connect to the Zoom call and am instantly reminded of how much time I’m about to waste. While Dr. Das drones on about enzymes or something, I finish the class activity in 15 minutes. Rookie numbers. On a good day? 10 minutes. After a half hour of Dr. Das presenting child’s play, we’re assigned to breakout rooms. Allegedly, I’m obligated to cooperate with these “academically gifted high schoolers.” Gross.
A few minutes go by without a sound. I’m starting to like the silence of this breakout room: background sounds tend to detract from the quality of my cutting-edge research. One of them breaks the silence: “Does anybody know how to do 3b?” Not a sound. I remain muted. Standard protocol for me; after all, what do I gain from helping? She continues, “What step are you all at?” Ugh, she was practically begging for my assistance. Grudgingly, I unmute and respond, “It’s simple really. All you do is perform a linear regression on the standard curve data and then plug in the absorbance values for x and solve for y.” Her teenage mind takes a few seconds to process the information. “Wait, don’t you have to plug in for y and then solve for x, ” she rebuts. I instantly unmute and prepare to launch my counterargument. Nothing comes out. I scour my brain, but I simply cannot explain why she’s wrong. My palms begin to sweat. Knees weak. Arms heavy. Bizarre thoughts start creeping into my head: “could she be right?” “the units check out” “why are my values so large?” I push these crazy thoughts aside and realize that the entire room has their eyes on me. I crumble. Caving in, I respond: “I don’t know.” Scribbling furiously, I desperately try to figure out any way that I can be right. Before I can arrive at a solution, Kyle, the TA, arrives into our room. I freeze. She repeats her question to him. Kyle clicks around, probably sifting through the key. The wait kills me. “Yes! That’s exactly how you do 3b!” Kyle exclaims. Horror sets in. With the speed of a 7’2” Olympian, my camera turns off. I curl up in my chair. How could I be wrong? How could I be so off? What have I done? Before I can diagnose the issue, the girl resumes talking,
“Are you okay Akul?”
“Yea, my camera seems to be glitching out I think.” I lied.
What a dumb excuse. I gather the courage to turn my camera back on. To my surprise, nobody cares. She had just toppled an intellectual giant, and in response she continues to work on the class activity? Miserably trying to hold back tears, I revise my answer to 3b and scan the rest of my work for errors.
Now time for the Campus Block. I normally choose to opt out of this useless 2-hour block of “social time,” but after the events of this morning, I felt I had no choice but to descend to the level of my “peers.” Today we’re breaking out into lunch tables. Whatever those are. My room is being led by Doctor Hall. The ‘Dr.’ in front of his name makes him way cooler than the rest of these airheads. “What would you like to do in college,” he asks to the room. I smirk. I searched through, planned out, and studied for all the courses I would take during my 8 years at MIT years ago when I was studying to skip the fifth grade. Instead of sharing my plan to triple major in Biochemistry, Computer Science, and Quantum Computing alongside a double minor in Mathematics and Spanish, I elected to wait out and hear the impromptu speeches my colleagues would patch together. “Biochemistry and Law!” someone shouts out. I instantly laugh. ‘What type of naive combo is that?!’ I thought to myself. “I’m so glad you brought that up! That combination is in high demand right now!” Dr. Hall affirms. My smile quickly fades. “How could Law and Biochemistry possibly be a good combo?” “One is STEM the other is Law?!” “How can you use a Law degree in the lab?” I start to panic again. The last time I got a question wrong was in the 2nd grade. This wasn’t normal for me. Right? Reading my mind, somebody else in the room asks “why is that a good combo?” Dr. Hall unmutes, “Law and Biochemistry work well for those that want to represent biotech companies as patent lawyers.” I promptly Google Dr. Hall’s heresy. He’s right. I try to shrug it off. Why would anyone want to work for an evil Big Pharma corporation anway? Soon, Dr. Hall gets to me. I excitedly share my ambitious (for them) plan to triple major and double minor to everyone. The room’s response is incredibly underwhelming. Dr. Hall grumbles with an abated “Cool.” A few scowls float around. An awkward silence forms, which, after what feels like centuries, Dr. Hall fills with another personal question. I don’t hear his question though. I’m reeling in shock. I was expecting cheers and applause, awe and wonder, questions inquiring how and when I arrived at such a decorated degree plan. Instead, it seemed like nobody cared. What is SSP doing to me? Why is it revealing my flaws?
The Campus Block ends. Finally a break. I used to say that I enjoy receiving criticism because I would like to know how it feels. Well, I know how it feels now. I hate it. Intrusive thoughts begin crowding my mind. The skeptical side of my brain roars to be heard. How long have I been making mistakes? How did SSP reveal this side of me? What about my research? I tremble. My research. There’s no way I’ve made mistakes in that, right? A wave of fear brushes over me. I dreadfully open the files and scan through them. Until now, I would always briefly skim my work and never seriously dig into it; there was never a need because I never make mistakes. There it is. Page 2 had an arithmetic error. I faint.
30 seconds later, I come back to my senses. I’m profusely sweating. I move far, far away from my computer. These Earth-shattering revelations disrupt all I know about this world. After years of suppression, my skeptical side grabs the reins. My entire life is a lie. I deeply introspect, reevaluating every facet of my life. How long have I been living this way? How can I change? Do people hate me? I spend these 3 hours of break time soul-searching. And revising my supposedly cutting-edge research. With tissues in hand. My now-skeptical mind is buzzing, catching error after error after error. There’s a lot of work to be done.
The time is 3 P.M. I connect to the TA Block and am instantly reminded of my morning humiliation. While Colin drones on about dungeons or something, I reach out to my teammates on Zoom.
“Hey, what are we working on right now?”
“Week 2 of the Project!” Alvin responds instantly.
“Thanks,”I anxiously reply. They must hate me by now.
Once Colin’s done talking about his board game, we’re broken out into our research groups. I feel obligated to cooperate with my teammates. Make up for not doing anything. I brace myself for harsh criticism from my teammates, but to my surprise, they welcome me with open arms. “Glad to have you on board!” Sena announces. I smile. This is awesome. ‘My teammates are the best,’ I think to myself.
After a couple of hours of Google Sheets struggles, scientific debates, and meeting Sena’s cat, we wrap up our work for the day. I almost leave the meeting, but I decided to make sure we’re done.
“Do we have any work left?” I ask.
“Yes! We do!” Alvin responds.
‘Not again,’ I think to myself. What did I miss now? I aimlessly scroll through Canvas.
“It’s party time!” Alvin remarks eagerly.
Sensing my confusion, Alvin and Sena instruct me to follow their lead. We move to breakout room 10. Turns out they’re wrapping up as well. From thin air, someone sparks a conversation about Korean dramas. Somehow we jump to learning TikTok dances? Before I know it, all teams converge into Room 10. I can’t believe that I had been missing out on these amazing people. One person’s an avid swimmer. Someone else is a top-notch flutist. Another is a Harry Potter doppelgänger. And one is a basketball shoe salesman! I don’t remember learning about others ever being this interesting. Sadly though, our spirited exchanges end abruptly at 6 P.M. I get up from my seat, and for the first time in a while, I’m smiling out of joy and not a feeling of superiority. Maybe SSP isn’t so bad after all.