Photo credit: Moyan | Flickr
By LIM PEI XIN
After SPM, I was offered a place in a Singaporean junior college under the ASEAN scholarship. During that brief time, I became more willing to try out new things to become better prepared for the changes life would bring. I was not very athletic in high school, but I dared myself to join track and field competitions and other outdoor activities, and I grew to love wall-climbing and kayaking.
The new environment really made me step out of my comfort zone and the normality of my life. Physically and mentally, I became a different person. Many people, I assume, would know or have heard of the high expectations for academic excellence in a junior college, but I personally experienced the fun, non-academic side as well.
Six months later, however, I received an offer from the Public Service Department (PSD) to study in the United States. I faced the dilemma of having to choose between the small foundations I had built and grown attached to (the friendships and the life) or the opportunity of a definite pathway to a bachelor’s degree. In the end, cold hard reasoning triumphed over emotional doubt.
I chose to discontinue my A-levels. All of my peers who were in a similar situation made the same decision too, as did our seniors and the seniors before them. Obviously, I did not learn anything from the poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ that I had been taught in English literature.
In retrospect, I do not regret taking the more-travelled road. After a year in the foundation program of INTEC UiTM Shah Alam, I pursued my bachelor’s degree in Biology at Purdue University, Indiana. I was exposed to quality education, many research opportunities, and an enriching college life.
I have met many professors devoted to their work and peers committed to pursuing their dreams. All these stimuli increased my enthusiasm in further understanding the subject of Biology. I enjoyed participating actively in class as well as defining my interests. I applied for internships, taught courses that I had taken in previous years, and engaged in hands-on research, all of which gave me experiences I value most today. In short, every moment became an opportunity to learn and grow in many different ways.
May 15, 2009 was my graduation day, but it was not the end of my academic journey. I decided to further my studies as I felt that my knowledge of biology was inadequate; hence, I applied to a few top universities and went for campus visits during my last semester in Purdue. The application process was gruesome and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) was tough. Fortunately, many helpful online forums such as Collegeconfidential.com helped me filter the universities I should apply for.
I also sought the national rankings of various biology programs via the US News and World Report website, as well as Phds. org. The former provides more general rankings, while the latter is tailored to an individual’s priorities on various aspects such as education quality, faculty reputation, funding support, student demography, and programme size.
I was lucky enough that one of my top preferences, Cornell University, invited me for a weekend campus visit. It was both stressful and enjoyable at the same time. The first day consisted of seven interviews with various professors in the field I had chosen. Some quizzed me on technical questions, some on ethical ones, but most of them asked about my research experiences.
That was the stressful part. However, all the professors I spoke to were amazingly humble and amiable. It was so enlightening to listen to them elucidate on their works and projects with such passion and dedication. That was the pleasurable part, not to mention the expense-free trips to fancy dinners, tours, and vineyard trips on the second day. That was the secondary objective of the visit, of course, but absolutely gratifying nonetheless.
Two weeks later, I was offered a full scholarship to pursue a PhD in the field of Genetics and Development. If PSD allows the deferment of its service bond, I will be going to Cornell in August 2009. That is my story so far, but I believe there are still many exciting things in store for me at Cornell, just as there are many awesome possibilities in front of you, fresh out of SPM and finally free from high school. Be it studying or working, the most important thing to remember is to build upon and pursue your own interests. That way, you will most certainly enjoy life.
Lim Pei Xin studied A-levels at Anderson Junior College, Singapore but did not complete it, choosing to pursue his Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Purdue University, USA instead. He will be pursuing his PhD in Genetics and Development at Cornell University this August. He indulges in the pleasures of baking and eating cheesecakes.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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