It’s my junior year and I have absolutely no idea what I what to do with my life. I’m still too busy to ever dream about getting eight hours of sleep most nights. When I go to the grocery store I never have a list. Sometimes I even consider my daily run to catch the shuttle for research a cardio workout. I’m a junior, an upperclassman, but I definitely don’t have it all figured out. Even still, this semester I’ve been overwhelmingly, ridiculously happy.
My friends have noticed a marked change in my demeanor. I smile constantly. Even my parents comment on the upbeat tone in my voice. But why the transformation? What has changed?
For one thing, I’m in love with my classes this semester. For the first time I feel like I’m getting to fully experience the neuroscience major. Done with all the required courses, I can explore specific topics in depth. I’m taking Great Discoveries in Neuroscience and Diseases and Disorders of the Nervous System.
Great Discoveries meets twice a week and is a small class of 25 people. Each week covers a different breakthrough in the field of neuroscience. Dr. Baraban gives a lecture on Tuesdays to give background on specific scientists and their research, and then on Thursdays one or two students will present two relevant papers on the discovery. For example, last week we learned how Rita Levi-Montalcini avoided capture during WWII by hiding out in the countryside. She performed her experiments in a bathtub! Montalcini discovered the first neurotrophin and eventually won the 1986 Nobel Prize for her work on the Nerve Growth Factor. Right now I’m reading her paper “Destruction of the Sympathetic Ganglia in Mammals By An Antiserum to a Nerve-Growth Protein.”
My second elective, Diseases and Disorders, is probably the most unique class I’ve taken at Hopkins. Instead of having one or two lecturers, each week we get to hear from leading experts in a specific field. One of the first speakers was Dr. Bryan Traynor, a genomics expert from the NIH. His research focuses on understanding the genetic basis of neuromuscular disorders. It was incredibly inspiring to hear him describe “the eureka moment” when he realized that C90rf72 was the gene causing a toxic hexanucleotide expansion that was responsible for 40% of all familial cases of ALS. How amazing it must have felt to be the first person in all the world’s history to understand something so monumental.
Another change this year was moving into an apartment with my best friend, Julia. We live in a gorgeous apartment right on North Charles Street. There are three glass doors that open up to a balcony facing the West, and every afternoon the setting sunlight pours in and paints the entire place a soft gold. I love having a place I can call home.
Although these changes in my life have greatly influenced my mood, I think for the first time I am making a conscious effort to remove negative stress from my life.
Just a few minutes ago, JHU_Dan and I got back from our favorite tradition: Monday night massages. Stressbusters is an awesome club on campus that gives out free five-minute massages to students in the library once a week.
This year I was also introduced by a friend to the Baltimore Shambhala Center. Every weeknight from 6-7 there is a free open meditation sitting. The center is only a block away from my apartment! After just fifteen minutes of meditation my mind is clear and superficial worries disappear. One evening before a particularly stressful biochem test I decided to take a quick meditation break. For the rest of the evening I was so much more productive and focused. My change in attitude was everything.
So I may no longer be set in the path of pre-med, and I am definitely not done learning about myself, but I am in a great state of mind. I haven’t been sick once this year (knock on wood) and the dark circles under my eyes are a less mottled purple. Junior year has been an amazing adventure thus far and I cannot wait to see what is ahead.