Written by: The Charles Liu
After having journeyed from classroom to classroom learning about subjects as diverse as melodic composition and partial differentiation, I thought I had experienced the whole gambit of methods of academic discovery. I had listened to lectures by Stanford professors, participated in Socratic seminars, pored through classic texts of mathematics and discussed with pioneers of scientific fields. Constant exposure to these practices, however, had accustomed me to this limited field of academics and brought me to presumptuously view myself as a well-travelled academic scholar.
This summer I decided to forge a completely different experience for myself and immersed myself in the world of bioinformatics research. Armed with millions of pieces of genetic data and a statistical toolbox, my mentor and I waded through uncharted waters in an attempt to find unseen relationships among the numbers, hoping that we would discover something profound at the end of the tunnel. With each inch of progress that I made, a host of questions arose, and the opportunity to pursue another avenue of research presented itself. After eight weeks of following leads and interpreting data, I progressed enough to present my research to some post doctorates and researchers who were as enamored with the field as I was.
Upon returning to school the following week, I realized just how much my experience researching had affected me. The process of studying that I had come to master in my years of schooling suddenly seemed foreign and ineffective to me, and the spark of novel discovery that had motivated me in my research was absent from many of the school subjects. As I worked through the weeks of school, my fascination with the potentially unmade discoveries in my research drew me back to the work that I had started over the summer.
I found this process of unexpected discovery to be hugely rewarding—never before had I gained such a deep understanding of such a complex range of topics. Always conducting cutting edge research in the field, I developed a genuine interest in bioinformatics, choosing to code into the late hours of the night rather than retiring to my bed. The potential to make impactful findings that would concretely benefit people equally inspired me to zealously pursue my research to positively impact the world. I also encountered a variety of researchers working on their own innovative projects, all passionately ready to explain their work and offer advice as to how I could help contribute.
My summer of research taught me that the spirit of self-discovery gives benefits that extend far beyond the scope of the research itself. As a deviation from the standard school curriculum, research can offer a universally rewarding experience and a valuable method of hands-on learning that every student can benefit from.