Happenstance — a chance or a circumstance eventually arriving with something good.
My life as a scientist? Yes, it was a fortunate happenstance.
As a kid when asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would say without flinching “A scientist!”. I was so sure I could do it. How hard can it be running Dexter’s lab right? Lol. Growing up, that dream seemed somehow out of reach.
From preparatory school to high school, I was in an exclusive school for girls in QC (shout out to my fellow Bridgetines!). And because it’s a girl’s school, we had classes on home economics where we learn how to cook, sew, prepare the table, and everything else you need to know to be a home-maker. I struggled a bit in high school because I didn’t know what interests me aside from basketball. I loved basketball since the first time I played with my dad in a court that he made himself, but this is a story for another day. Because of basketball and the need to maintain a grade (to be able to stay in the varsity team), of course, I studied really well. Really well that I excelled in Chemistry and Physics. But Physics was something else, It interests me more than any subject ever did. Back then, I didn’t know how these subjects can be of use. When college applications came in, I was still clueless of what field to pursue. Anyway, the only thing that I’m good at is to play ball. So I decided to apply to the top 3 universities in the Philippines and just choose the field that each university is known to be good at. I got rejected by the top 1 and top 2 universities, but the top 3 sent me an acceptance letter under a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. There’s a catch though, I have to come in for a confirmation of acceptance or else my slot will be given to someone else. At the exact date of my confirmation, it was terrible day for the family. My aunt died of cancer. It was a difficult day for me, I was very close to her. But I knew I have to get my shit together and show up at the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas (UST). I did show up, but I was 3 hours late and my slot had been given away to someone who is more deserving. My head was empty and I couldn’t care less, but then bells were ringing. And I kid you not, they really were! Someone with a bell was shouting, “Opening for Physics! Opening for Physics!”. There were two lines, one for BS Chemistry and the other BS Applied Physics major in Instrumentation. I remember back in high school that I did quite well in both of these subjects, but I knew that I liked Physics more. And so that’s where it all started — Me being a clueless Physics major.
I had my fair share of sleepless nights solving problem sets, deriving equations, building up prototypes, and constantly asking what I got myself into. Being a Physics major was not easy, but having great friends made it bearable. We would solve problem sets together with beer, GSM (Gin at a student budget price, lol), or Tequila. Half of the time drunk, we have no idea how we got things done but we’re sure we accomplished everything on time and of good quality. The magic of alcohol and Physics!
I love being in the field science for you are constantly surrounded by great minds. Dr. Glenda Delos Reyes, back then was one of our Physics Professors, introduced us to our first research exposure. We attended a national Physics conference (Samahang Pisika ng Visayas at Mindanao) in Baguio back in 2008. In a nutshell, we developed a sound tube which we called Ruben’s Tube that demonstrated sound waves using flames and we characterized it using a sound sensor. For clueless undergrads, it was extremely cool. We managed to take home the Best Paper Presenter award. This award opened more opportunities for all of us eventually leading us to Miguel De Benavides Outstanding Student Award, the highest award a student could get in the UST. We couldn’t believe that our brainstorming for an interesting research topic (over GSM blue on gatorade– a cocktail we named velocity) would land us an award enough to get us to any university we want for graduate studies. Cheers! Lol.
Right after Bachelor’s, I applied for Masters in Physics at Ateneo de Manila University. I got in but wasn’t able to land the scholarship I was aiming for. On the day of my interview, the department chair offered me a government scholarship but for a Masters in Atmospheric Science Degree instead. I was hesitant at first because my undergraduate thesis is about biomedical Physics. Atmospheric Science was clearly out of my comfort zone but I had to decide right there and then if I was to accept the scholarship or not. I did accept the scholarship. In my mind I thought, “Challenge accepted. Target locked!”.
Everything I planned for my career gets deviated by an inch. For my undergrad, I applied to Psychology but was pushed towards a Physics Degree. For master’s, I wanted to pursue Physics but was pushed towards Atmospheric Science. Clearly, the force is strong and it’s gearing me towards something I didn’t expect.
I got involved in various projects mostly on air quality studies and got opportunities to travel within the country and abroad to present my work and gain knowledge through workshops and training. And because I wanted to gauge what life in the academe can offer, I challenged myself to go into teaching as well (while I am doing my studies and also being a research assistant). Yes, guilty workaholic here.
And before I knew it, I graduated Master’s and needed a new challenge in life. I decided to go back to my Alma mater to teach for the ultimate goal of encouraging fellow Thomasian Physicists to pursue research and academe. I wanted the students to be inspired as I have been by my former Professors.
Even today, I still get messages from my students thanking me for being an inspiration to them, for believing in them, and for pushing them to take the opportunities in front of them that they would normally be too scared to grab. I was also given the chance to participate in an outreach program by teaching kids from Malinao, Aklan which I found a very humbly and inspiring experience. After 2 years of teaching, I already felt fulfilled and as though I have done whatever it is I came for to do. And perhaps, it is the right time to pursue something for myself.
Now, I am pursuing my Doctoral Degree in Earth Science and Environmental Engineering in Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea. My research focus is on fine particulate matter toxicology. Just like my clueless undergraduate self, I would still ask what the hell I got myself into. But I know, the force is strong and I am meant to be exactly where I am now. And that I will be what I dreamed to be as a kid, A SCIENTIST!
“We have to do the best we are capable of. This is our most sacred human responsibility.”