Temple CST Perseverance Conquers

CST Student Representative Message

To the CST Class of 2020:

Four years ago, I arrived on the Temple University campus for the most important interview of my life. I was nervous. I was sweaty. I was interviewing for a program that would put me on track through college and straight into Temple’s medical school—no pressure.

I remember sitting in the presentation room with thirty other students but feeling completely alone. I was shaking. Thoughts of self-doubt consumed my mind. And all I could do to maintain some sense of control was run through my mental resume. I thought what made me a strong candidate and, ultimately, future doctor was the surface stuff, but deep down it didn’t feel like enough.

I was accepted into the Health Scholar program at Temple, but this kind of thinking only continued. I thought that learning everything I could about science would make me a good scientist. I thought that learning everything I could about medicine would make me a good doctor. But we cannot be good scientists, good doctors, engineers, or professionals if we don’t first learn everything we can about ourselves.

For the first few years of my education, I was engrossed in technicality. I was concerned with perfect data, a need to find answers with the highest degree of certainty. But I neglected to explore inward. I didn’t pause to consider why I hesitated to answer a question in class, why I was too afraid to be wrong. I didn’t stop to think why I felt unqualified for research programs, why I didn’t share ideas with classmates, afraid of sounding stupid.

I didn’t ask myself if, at the end of the day, I was happy. In the midst of learning about the world around us, we forget the world within us. Our research becomes routine, our hypotheses habitual, and being content, a confound. We are taught integrals, after all, not introspection.

Temple became a conduit for my independence. It was in big things, like having the opportunity to travel to Italy for summer research. I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know all of the techniques, but I began to understand that it’s not about having all of the answers all of the time. It’s about asking the right questions. It’s about being eager to learn. It’s about finding the confidence within you to try in the first place.

Whether I was learning how to contour vital organs for radiotherapy treatment or just trying to navigate back to my apartment through streets with names I couldn’t pronounce, the need to be confident in myself was paramount. I returned from this experience ready to perform protein analysis, but more importantly to navigate the unknown, to connect with anyone around me, to trust in what I am capable of.

My independence grew in the everyday things, too. I realized the blessing of being surrounded by Temple’s diverse student body and being able to collaborate with people who all have their own story, their own fears, and their own strengths.

This is why I chose Temple in the first place: because of its people. As a premed, other schools seemed to have this every man for themselves mentality. Here, I feel part of a team. We help each other grow, and are proud of each other’s success. It’s funny that Temple became the birthplace of my independence, because its true power came through a fiercely collaborative student spirit—the idea that I can be independent but I don’t have to be alone. 

Connecting with those around me has helped me evaluate myself, and I wondered how I can learn from their stories to forge better ones of my own. I began to question everything. I became that person that annoys everyone in class, that prevents everyone from being dismissed early because I ask that extra question.

It was professors like Dr. Macaluso that fueled this curiosity. She challenged me to stop accepting whatever I see at face value, to gauge information with a critical perspective, to explore every angle of the world whether it’s in the classroom, laboratory, or my community. This process gave me a voice, the confidence to put myself out there without fear of judgement. More importantly, it helped me push past the scientific world of black and white, and retrieve the sense of curiosity, the desire for lifelong learning that pulled me towards this university in the first place. We should never reach a point where we have no questions left to ask, no problem to solve, no one to inspire, and no goal to accomplish.

I soon realized that getting to know myself made me better able to serve others. When I took time to find what makes me happy and understand what I am capable of, I became better equipped to give the most to my work, and one day, to the world. When I ask a question in class, I ask on everyone’s behalf. When I teach kids in the community about DNA or entropy, I empower their internal curiosity and confidence to engage with the world around them.

We need to devote as much attention to introspection as we do learning Python or thermodynamics. Let’s face it. Yesterday we had a schedule. We were told what classes to take, where to show up, and when. But tomorrow, you’re going to wake up and there’s the world. Some of you know exactly what you’ll be doing, some haven’t the slightest idea. Regardless, it’s the scariest thing. But wherever you will be tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, there is always one constant factor–that which is within you. Get to know exactly what that is.

Four years after that first interview, I had my interview for medical school. I was reminded of the nervous, sweaty girl from four years ago and how she would say this is the next defining moment of her life—the time to show how years of science have made me ready for years of service.

On the subway platform to the interview, my friend asked me if I was nervous. And of course, I’d be lying (and a bit crazy) if I said no. But what I did feel, was at peace. This was in no way my defining moment; there’s always going to be another interview, another project, another reason to doubt ourselves. It’s the little moments, the everyday things that remind us what we are capable of. Those are the defining moments. Alive with possibilities, ripe with opportunity, the world surrounds us, but it is not until we can greet it with the wholehearted notion that we are worthy of it, that we can truly begin to make an impact.

Samantha Sonya Panich, CST ’20

Panich raduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in biology. As a CST student, she conducted undergraduate research at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University and Temple’s Biomedical Research Program in Siena, Italy. Today, Panich is a medical student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, where she is a CPR instructor for first-year students, a lead peer academic facilitator and part of a virtual tutoring program for children of essential workers affected by COVID.