Being a first gen student, I was never exposed to higher education except for in the classroom, where passion for knowledge was diminished by uncaring students who acted up constantly. Then I came to college. Meeting professors, graduate students, and my own classmates helped me feel like I belonged. I was no longer the only person in the room who cared about gene expression or cell signaling, and I wasn’t mocked for loving biology as much as I do. That feeling was, and is, fantastic. NCUR was a reimagining of these experiences.
The first day of the conference, when we walked into the room where everyone was presenting, I felt much too intimidated to talk to any of the presenters. Then, as I got more comfortable after watching presenters interact with conference-goers, I began to talk to some of them. I’m extremely glad that I did. Oftentimes, the biology posters were too complex for me to understand, but I quickly found that presenters were extremely understanding of my limited knowledge of certain topics and were happy to explain things in a simpler way. Quite a few of these people that I talked to actually took time to ask about my research as well, and they gave me a lot of advice about graduate school as well as the rest of my time in undergrad. As I discussed earlier, this brought me a strong sense of belonging. I absolutely loved seeing people so passionate about their fields, and the fact that they were so kind to me made me feel much better about being in the field I’m in.
Another problem that comes with being first gen is not knowing at all about how higher education works. I know that I would like to go to graduate school, but I am not sure about how this works. I visited the graduate school fair, and this helped a lot. Similar to the presenters, after a few of the people representing various schools learned that I was a first-year student, they immediately became open to discussing how graduate school works. I heard third, fourth, and fifth-year students asking about application deadlines and specific programs, whereas I was asking more broad questions, but the representatives were all extremely kind and understanding.
Overall, this trip helped me connect with my peers as well as with the people in my field, and this was an experience that I will never forget.