Science Underdog: Not just another underdog story
Updated: Jun 13
By Michael Whaby
Ever wonder how some people seem to know all the right moves, have all the luck, ask all the right questions? They just get it (or they’re really good at faking it). I remember sitting in my first undergraduate science classes with crushing anxiety because I knew that everyone around me were in their league—and I was way out of mine. I mean, leaving home with big dreams is hard when its just you. And I didn’t come from a family of college graduates, so embarking on this journey felt very pioneering to me.
Man, did I have fun in college. But this isn’t another story about how too much partying ruined my life—go have fun, make some friends. This is a story about psyching out, about identity crises, and about come-backs. This is a story for the Underdogs about why you might not be not such an underdog after all, and what it often takes to figure that out.
Psyching yourself out
"It takes persistence to see something through to reach the potential that your mind wants to convince you isn’t there."
The first paragraph above screams imposter syndrome. (As you’ll see in the next post, imposter syndrome can follow your through school, and even all the way into your career—like its your shadow.) Truthfully, however, those people that I mentioned in the first sentence, the ones that just get it—and not just on the surface—are few and far between. The only thing to get, especially at the early stages of schooling or a career, is that everyone around, including you, has potential. Some will have more, some will have less, and some will never find out because they leave the race before it was over.
I couldn’t get out of my head that I just wasn’t made to make it in such a competitive and challenging field. (At the time I was studying biology with hopes to go to dental school, but later decided to pursue a PhD in biomedical sciences.) So, after a few failed classes my first year in undergrad, I left the race. I switched majors to an “easier” one where I could care less about failing. It took less than two semesters to realize that I was wrong.
I’m the furthest thing from a NASCAR fan, so out of spite I’m skipping a great analogy: pit stops. But a young Bruce Wayne (Batman), here to save the day again, once left Gotham City—a city he sworn to protect—only to train so he could come back stronger and more able to protect Gotham. Please tell me you get it… Cars exit the race, only to go to the pit stop to get new tires or something so then they can drive in circles faster than before. The point is, although it’s not always necessary, sometimes all you need is a new set of wheels, a new experience or perspective, to get your head back on track.
Leaving, thankfully, isn’t always necessary. Its usually not. Leaving just provides the opportunity of a new perspective. Here’s a perspective for you to consider: Think back to potential on day 1. Those who get it may have less potential than those who don’t—yet. Logically, if potential is referring to something that is yet to come, then those that already get it might not have the potential that other, more fresh students have. It takes persistence to see something through to reach the potential that your mind wants to convince you isn’t there.
Identity crises and come-backs
We probably all experience them at some point in our lives: “Who do I want to be?” “What do I want people to think of me?” I think the great thing about entering college, or any new stage in life, is that you have another opportunity to re-invent yourself. Easier said than done.
It took three academic advisors in less than four semesters for someone to finally help me see a glimmer of potential in myself. In line with other events in my life, I had finally realized that I was ready to return—like Bruce Wayne—to my original major (biology) and see my challenges through.
My time in a different major (athletic training) actually served me well. It was close enough to what I should have been studying all along, but offered a more in depth learning of human anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and biomechanics—things that are often neglected in molecular biology as you dive deeper into the cell and further from organ/body systems. It made me more dynamic in my thoughts and learning.
I re-took previously failed classes and passed them wonderfully. As my grades started to “prove me worthy,” I even began to associate and identify with people in the same field as me. I began to interact with my professors and established great relationships with some as they mentored me. When I felt accepted and respected by them, I gained a whole new respect for myself.
Suddenly, I began to realize that I didn't have to take this on alone. What I needed all along was some guidance, or direction, while some encouragement and enlightenment helped as well. And had I sought this earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have had to change majors three times before returning to one. For my unique case, I think things happened as they should have. Maybe I needed the full experience of losing hope, leaving, and then rising back full of optimism and charisma.
Science Underdogs and others alike
Fast forward, I finished with a Bachelor of Science in biology from West Liberty University, then went on to receive a Master of Science from the Biomedical Master’s Program at the University of Pittsburgh. My experience at Pitt was particularly unique and played a large part in my development in just one year. I’m currently a biomedical PhD student at the Medical University of South Carolina. You can find experiences from each of these institutions peppered throughout the various blog posts. Speaking of which, it’s been nearly a year since I wrote the first post for this blog, so I finally want to layout what you can find here:
The blog currently has two sections:
Biomedical Career Insight
Behavior, Mindset and some Science
Biomedical Career Insight offers a variety of content from students or professionals studying of practicing in fields of biology or medicine. These posts contain their own individual insights varying from various school application/interview advice to on-the-job experiences. This is a place for students hoping to pursue a career in science or medicine. Whether you want to be a physician, a physician assistant, a dentist, or a researcher, the insights here will not only help you get started but will also help you along the way.
We encourage you to reach out to us with any questions about any of the posts, or if there’s something you’d like us to cover that would be helpful to you!
Some posts from this section include:
Behavior, Mindset and some Science contains content that is mainly driven by curiosities and experiences with my own life. These posts are more random but are all common in that they each contain lessons that may be useful in different aspects of life, school or work. Reading is a go-to outlet of mine, and something that has really helped shape my mind and work-ethic over the years. That is why many of these articles have book references, scientific publication references and other sources as well. Not only do I want to offer the credibility by referencing content, but I also want to provide these sources should a topic I write stimulate your own curiosities.
Some posts from this section include:
When I finally sat down to write this bit, I realized that this should have been the very first post to appear on the website. Conveniently for me, at the time I was having somewhat of an idea deficit. But, alas, we are here. I’m hoping that this gives an idea of what Science Underdog stands for.
Please, get in touch. I, or any of the contributors—we are all in science- or medical-related fields—will be here to help. Visit the Home Page here, and fill out the contact form at the bottom. We’d love to hear from you.