The year I sat Schols, I didn’t go home for the Christmas break. Instead of enjoying my well-deserved rest after term exams, I decided to stay. And staying came with a price. I was constantly stressed. I struggled to sleep each night. Out of excitement, of course, but mainly because of the immense amount of material left to be covered the next day. I was literally reading from daybreak till nightfall and focusing all my energy on Schols. I even remember mumbling in the shower after the long days of studying.
Meanwhile, everyone turned over their calendar, and suddenly I was no longer studying in 2019, but in 2020, a whole new decade. I won’t complain, I had a wonderful New Year’s Eve. We went out for a fancy dinner with my friends staying back or taking Schols too. We were laughing and chatting for ages in the Ramen Bar, followed by some dancing in Temple bar and finishing the night watching the official firework show from the Rosie Hackett Bridge. It was the only night when I let myself rest. And therefore it was magical. When we had finished there, a little bit after midnight, I went straight to bed to wake up for a whole new year and yet tackle the same challenge as before– preparing for Schols. It was quite an unusual feeling. When everyone started to realise that we truly entered the new year, I shooed the thought away saying “I will celebrate once I have finished with Schols.” I even planned to start wishing Happy New Year to my friends and family when I came out of my last exam on January 8.
“It might sound strange, but I feel like I really had to be innovative and creative with my essays.”
Studying for Schols required me to upgrade my study method. These exams were designed to see that besides showing the level of my understanding, I was able to develop some own ideas, connect distant concepts and describe an integrated, holistic view of my subject. This meant that lexical knowledge wasn’t enough, I had to show some proactivity and do more than what was asked from me. It might sound strange, but I feel like I really had to be innovative and creative with my essays. And this very fact is essential. Continuously looking for connections between the currently studied topics, relating back to my previous knowledge, trying to fit everything into one big picture and paying attention to all the lost, misunderstood and extra details at the same time made me realise something.
“Once I got the hang of it, I started to bring in older pieces of information and rethink them in the context of the exciting new concepts with what I had to familiarise myself with.”
This whole new way of thinking and studying made me recognise how much I knew. Once I got the hang of it, I started to bring in older pieces of information and rethink them in the context of the exciting new concepts with what I had to familiarise myself with. I was thinking critically, as aligned with one of the pillars of the Trinity Graduate Attributes. I am not saying that I have never thought critically before, the very opposite. I thought I was thinking critically all along… But what I hadn’t done before was implement this type of thinking in my studies. Since Biology is quite a fact-based major, I never questioned anything and hardly ever aimed to form my own links in the material.
Being able to do so boosted my confidence and gave me more motivation to get to the finish line. After a few more days spent in the library and discussing the topics with every person in my way, I arrived at the last night. Lying in my bed, I didn’t want to believe that it was really happening. I had been dreaming about taking these exams for so long at that point, and it felt surreal. Especially accepting the fact that there was nothing more that I could do, I had to go for it how I was. Whether I was ready or not, whether I had prepared enough or not. I knew the time wouldn’t stop, so it was going to end in one way or another, but the night before my first exam I felt very anxious.
“I said to myself that I just had to sit the first one and then there is no way out. Once I committed, I wouldn’t quit.”
The next morning, as usual, I was walking to school. On the way there I was listening to my own voice reading off the most important notes in my ears. It was reassuring. Just as much as seeing the Campanile standing at its place. I have this ritual. Whenever I feel lost or overwhelmed, I just walk through the front gate, all the way up to the Campanile, listening to some music and reminding myself of the WHYs and HOWs. Why am I here? Why did I choose to do what I am doing? How did I get here? How much do I want to graduate from Trinity as a geneticist? And so on. It helps me find my reasons and trust my gut. That Monday, I did the same thing. After fighting my way through all the tourists and passing by the shops still in Christmas decor, I reached the gate, changed from my voice memo to some music and started walking. Step by step, preparing myself for the 3 days and 9 hours of scholarship exams ahead of me. When I got to the building, I was determined enough to sit the first exam. I said to myself that I just had to sit the first one and then there is no way out. Once I committed, I wouldn’t quit. Thinking back, I know I had committed myself long before that. And my commitment paid off.
I don’t know the results yet, and I am almost a hundred percent sure that I won’t win Schols. Regardless, I still had my joy in sitting them. So why did I prepare for Schols? Why did I “simply” give it a try without caring about the results? Let me tell you. Firstly, because I hate nothing more than missed opportunities and wasted potential. I considered that if I did my best preparing and that didn’t prove to be enough, that was still better to know, rather than not doing anything at all and thinking that I might have had a chance. You see. I just had to try. There was no other option.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I am able to aim higher and higher.”
Secondly, I was pushing my limits. I wanted to prove to myself that I am able to aim higher and higher. Getting accepted to Trinity with a rather difficult gap year behind me meant the world to me. Still, in the first few months, I suffered from imposter syndrome thinking that there has been a terrible mistake and I shouldn’t be here at all. Later, finishing my first year with great results convinced me that I do belong here. From there on, I started to believe that I am just as good and capable as anyone else around me, and I should stop using the “I am a foreigner” line as an excuse. I can perform and even if my English isn’t the best I can express myself just fine.
Pulling through Schols, therefore, gave me more than I could ever wish for. It reminded me of my strengths and strengthened me further. Endurance, persistence, diligence, and developing continuously (another Trinity Graduate Attribute). Since then, I have a new approach to study and a newly discovered interest in biology. Especially its cutting edge at the vanguard of research. I would have never thought that I could read and make sense of not one but many research papers and reviews over such a short time. To finish many books from my ever-growing biology-related reading list and communicate all of this integrated and layered mass of information effectively (Trinity Graduate Attribute again). The other day I found myself looking up a research paper and reading it for my own entertainment. It is not an exaggeration to say that I broke off the chains holding me back to devote myself to science truly.
All this because of Schols. I particularly enjoyed the actual exam days. It felt prestigious, and I was thankful to be there with all those who worked while others didn’t. Thinking back, I loved sitting in the Examination Hall the most, with paintings of excellences hanging on the walls around me while giving an account of the challenging topics of human evolutionary genetics.
It gives me a push every time I think back and recall both the days of sweating and the days of performing. I hope it will have long-lasting effects on my attitude, mentality and academic career. To anyone sitting Schols right now, push through the rest of the exams if you can. To anyone considering sitting it next year, all I can say is that once you decide to commit, you can have no regrets. Your commitment will pay off.