The rigors of academia have a magical power of beating down and demolishing any person’s feelings of accomplishments. In this world, for every good there is always an inevitable bad. You overcome a major hurdle that has hindered your research for the past year, only to discover that a reviewer isn’t convinced that your experiment truly addressed the problem. That’s why any feelings of satisfaction are short-lived and why it is important to bask in their brief glory.
Sometimes, these timeless moments have no correlation to my world of research and instead are related to the darker and less-loved side of academics. Exams. Final reports, mid-terms, and exams map out a student’s existence from August to December and begin anew from January to May. As these tests and projects continue to oscillate the life-time students, such as myself, reach a point where the exams become indistinguishable and passing these written assessments becomes a habit of everyday life. An accomplishment not worth noting, an accomplishment marked by fleeting satisfaction.
There was always one set of exams during each semester that brought a mixed feeling of dread and excited anticipation. Finals week. When Finals week would begin, I always felt the stress through the first set of exams while cramming a semester’s worth of forgotten knowledge back into my brain. But, amidst the stress there was another emotion; a feeling of eager anticipation for that last Final. The one Final that blocked the road to freedom.
In some years, preparing for the last final was impossible as I was filled with an enthusiastic giddiness about what was next. These were the years marked by change. These were the years of graduation from high school, college, and graduate studies. During those times, studying for any exam was impossible as the future held too much excitement.
After the last Final of the semester, the pure happiness of the student body cannot be missed. The college bars are packed to capacity and students who had forgotten how to smile, cannot stop smiling. Feelings of joy bubble over everyone and temporarily block out worries about grades and GPA.
How I felt on Tuesday, December 6, of 2016 after taking my final. After finishing the last page and reviewing my answers, I turned in my exam with an unbelievably light heart. I had the classic spirit of happiness that always marked the end of a rigorous semester, but there was a new emotion underlying my joy. Stunned disbelief. This exam was not just my last final of the semester, it was my last, last, final. Never again, would I have to cram a semester’s worth of knowledge into my noggin. Never again, would I have to stress about an exam’s grade impact on my GPA. Never again would I have to prepare for a written final!
Instead, I now have to prepare for something more difficult and, ultimately, more fulfilling. Now, I begin preparing to showcase my knowledge of chemistry and prove my expertise in the field per evaluation by committee who will push me; a committee who will search for my limitations. This task is not for the passive student, that I was, sitting in classrooms and reciting knowledge for exams. No, this is not a job for the passive student. It is a job for the professional and creator of knowledge that I have become, who addresses the tough questions that do not have clear-cut answers.