“What is your passion in life?” A svelte researcher from Berlin, Germany, posed this daunting question to me the day I went in the Vision and Cognition lab for a brief meeting. He was a man of elegance who radiated a sense of sage and intellect. You could already notice this ambient aura from the way he presented himself in his choice of outfit (a velvet grey striped suit with a black turtleneck) and his gesticulations as he talked (smooth motion of the hand with purposeful accents). At once eccentric and graceful, I found his vibe very interesting. I was curious as to what thoughts his mind harbored, what values he upheld, and what his background comprised of. He was a man of color with a European upbringing with the passion to study the human experience of color to complement his likening of painting. Indeed, a sentence fails to encapsulate the extraordinarily dense character of the man. But, what I can express that such a multidimensional persona was so electrifying that I focused my efforts on working with him rather than for the research topic itself.
As a research assistant at Hopkins, there are various roles that one can play in the research process. The responsibilities can range from menial tasks like categorizing video tapes into boxes to complex jobs like computing programing algorithms of data from hundreds of participants. More often than not, the research assistant position entails helping the researcher expedite the research process by setting up experimental tasks, conducting the tests, or researching about the topic of interest. Admittedly, it is difficult to sum in one sentence the entire scope of the all the possible roles of research assistants among and within departments. But, mostly, it is to assist the researcher attain their objective in their respective research.
With the work that I am doing with my researcher, however, the tables are turned. Instead of selfishly imposing his visions of his projects on me, my researcher has constantly sought for my input in his experimental questions, incessantly suggested possible works that I can pursue in the future that relate to my passion, and relentlessly challenged me to construct my own opinions around complex issues. Although we haven been researching about a topic so closely integrated in the visual system – how we see color – he has encouraged me to find ways to draw connections of the subject matter to the interests that I gravitate towards. We have gabbed on for hours about how our sensory modalities can converge to create color vision whilst hearing music. Topics like these that engage both the informative research subjects as well as my intrinsic amusement are hard to come by in a day to day conversation with friends or professors. My talks with my researcher has motivated me to think of innovative artistic ways to musically and visually stimulate the mind in ways that can affect the emotional state of students here at Hopkins.
I have been extremely lucky to have someone who can provide the scaffolding of intellectual instruction to me out of volition. The chances that I get to meet someone who is willing to see the growth of my intellect and help me create my own brainchild are very infinitesimal. I can not wait to see how my passions will strengthen or change throughout the next couple of months spent with my researcher.
The moment he asked me the question about passion, my mind halted to an absolute stop. I did not know where to start and if anything, I didn’t even have a starting point. I ended up fishing for empty words that could fill the awkward gap. The gut feeling I felt at this moment is so vividly ingrained my memory, because it magnified the lack of clarity I have in my mission here at Hopkins. It was the much needed slap in the face for me to not only localizes which arenas my interest lies in but also search for practical steps that I can take to bring me closer to the fore of my passion. My researcher concluded today’s meeting with a commonly said but beautifully hopeful remark that reinforces the optimism that the society needs more of, “The sky is the limit.”