Why am I not at the beach?
When I think of summer, I think of sandy hair, shaved ice, tan lines and home.
I don’t think of test tubes or hours spent in the lab. I definitely don’t think of lecture halls or textbooks.
But I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that summer will no longer be the carefree vacation that it was in the past—not, apparently, if I want to do something with my life.
Since I arrived at Duke, I’ve been surrounded by the most motivated, accomplished and ridiculously intelligent group of people I’ve ever met. Duke students are on their ways to big places and big things, and they’re doing everything they can to get there. For many, that means there is no time to “waste” three months on activities that cannot be documented on a resume. There is constant pressure to do something productive. A job, an internship, extra classes–anything but relax.
As a hopeful future doctor, I’ve been told to plan and record my undergraduate track on a website called AdviseStream. For those of you unfamiliar with AdviseStream, it helps pre-med students categorize their lives into “research,” “knowledge of medicine,” “leadership,” “service to others,” “diversity” and “life experience.” It shows the progress in these categories each Fall, Spring and Summer. Not only does the AdviseStream planner not so subtly hint that I probably shouldn’t sit on my butt all summer (or else there will be a glaring empty column indicating exactly when I was an useless individual with no relevant life experiences), it also reduces my undergraduate career to a mere assortment of colored bars pointing toward one thing—medical school. My Google search history is filled with questions catering to what medical schools want. What should my GPA be? Where should I volunteer? It’s like that “tree falls in the forest” scenario—if a pre-med student has an experience and they can’t incorporate it into their med school application, did it really happen?
But life has always sort of been, and will probably continue to be, like that. It can be a good thing, because I doubt I would have discovered my interests if I had just lain in bed binge-watching TV shows. Thanks to the motivation of requirements, I’ve gotten involved with activities that I thought would look good on paper and ended up becoming sincerely passionate about them. And most of the things I am interested in are ones that I “should” be doing anyways because, after all, my career goals are a result of my interests.
It makes sense, too. It is impossible to assess someone’s aptitude in their future career unless their past experiences reflect it. You could be the most technically talented and creative programmer out there, but it doesn’t mean a thing when you’re compared to programmers who have actually held software development positions or created unique apps. Expecting an employer or admissions officer to believe your words without legitimate qualifications is basically the equivalent of being that insufferable person who claims “I’m smart, but I just don’t try” to explain their shitty grades. So we try to prove ourselves by going above and beyond what’s expected of us.
Unfortunately, so many people have caught on to this that now, going above and beyond is what’s expected. Because of this, selection processes often come down to miniscule differences between equally qualified people. A particularly memorable day of volunteering or a personal tragedy that shifted your perspective on life can make you stand out from the crowd, depending on how you portray it. Naturally, this causes people to wildly misrepresent mundane aspects of their lives.
Going abroad? An invaluable social experience where I immersed myself in new customs, went outside my comfort zone and ultimately became more appreciative of diverse cultural backgrounds. (Took full advantage of the lowered drinking age)
Boring desk job? Tackled administrative problems with highly developed organizational skills and logical thinking. Contributed to a team environment demonstrating strong communication skills. Proficient in Microsoft Office programs.(Sent multiple texts saying “Ughh save meee,” then scrolled through Facebook for the majority of the shift)
Striving to be the best often makes us view our own experiences through the lens of what others—like employers and admissions officers—want from us. But I don’t want to take positions that I’m not invested in just to put them on my resume. I don’t want to force my experiences to fit the mold of the position I’m applying for. I don’t want to stress that I can always be doing more productive things, though I’m constantly reminded of it in an environment of extremely successful people.
I want to do things out of personal interest, and this summer, I am. I hope that your summer is more meaningful than a bullet point on your resume.
Pallavi Shankar is a Trinity sophomore. This is her first column in a biweekly series during the summer.