“Ashley, I want to speak with you briefly after class about an opportunity that may be a good fit for you,” said my biology professor. As a college freshman, I was surprised because I had assumed that any special opportunities were designed for upperclassmen.
“There is a research training program for students in the biology department. Five students will be selected to work with a biology professor on a research project. Additionally, the students will receive $10,000, plus complimentary housing for the upcoming summer. I strongly advise you to apply for this program. I will email the program details to you today,” she said.
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My initial excitement dwindled when I heard my professor explain that any student from the biology department was eligible. I tried to figure out how I would compete with upperclassmen biology students. I must have looked concerned because my professor looked at me and said two words: “Do it.”
With her reassurance, I returned to my dorm to check my email for the application. As I read through the application, I felt that I had a decent chance — with the exception of the essay. I knew that the essay had to stand out among all of the other applicants. Fortunately, the essay topic was about my passion as it relates to my future career. I decided to focus on being authentic and telling my story in my essay. I wrote several drafts of the essay and selected the best version.
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At the end of that week, I gathered all of the supporting documents (transcripts, personal statement, etc.) and emailed the completed application. In two weeks, I received an email from the organization. I was selected to move on to the next round of judging for the program. The organization instructed me to prepare for an in-person interview in two weeks with the judges. I was nervous about standing in front of the judges, but I remembered the words of my professor: “Do it.”
Between classes, I rehearsed my responses for the upcoming interview. I decided to take the same approach as I did when writing my essay for the application: I would focus on being myself and sharing responses from my heart.
Two weeks later, I was standing outside of the judging room, waiting for my interview. I watched other biology students walk in and out of the room after their interviews. They seemed very confident, which made me question if I had made the right choice to apply for the program. I kept thinking back to that conversation with my professor and decided to do my best in the interview.
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Finally, the coordinator waved at me to come inside the room. As I walked into the room, I almost screamed. One of the judges was my biology professor. She had a huge smile on her face, so I smiled back. My confidence increased as I began answering questions, and sharing my story and love for research. Near the end of the interview, my professor decided to share a few words about me with the other judges (other biology professors).
“Ashley has consistently stayed engaged in class and always stays after class to ask me questions. She isn’t afraid to utilize any resources available to her to find the answers. She will be an asset to any research team in her future career,” she said.
I smiled and thanked her for her kind words. I was shocked. The rest of the judges smiled and informed me that they would announce their decision in a few weeks. They instructed me to wait for an email with their decision. As I left that interview room, I was beyond thrilled and felt much better about my chances.
Later on that same day, I ran into my biology professor and thanked her again for her kind words. She said, “Ashley, I knew I would be on the judging team, and that is why I was pushing for you to apply for the program. Besides that, you have done something that a lot of students fail to do: You have reached out and developed a genuine relationship with me. I wish you all the best.”
A few weeks later, I received an email from the judges. I went to the student union to read the email aloud. “Dear Ashley, we wish to extend congratulations to you for being accepted into the program. Please reply within seven days to confirm whether you accept or reject the offer,” it said.
I was overjoyed. Who knew that one conversation with my biology professor would land me a $10,000 scholarship plus a chance to get experience in my future career field? It goes to show that you should never overlook an opportunity — you never know where it could lead.
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