2: You have less time in undergrad than in high school (NASA PATHS thoughts)

I attended an event for the NASA PATHS BIPOC STEM Storytelling Program on June 25, 2024 — and I have some thoughts.

(I have some other thoughts I shall share in the future, but those will be for a different audience and purpose.)

I've never taken on a mentorship role in college STEM (whether that be rising undergrad or current undergrad students), but when I think about the event I am now aware that I am fully capable of this.

My thoughts are sort of related to how most think about the question, “What would you say to your younger self?”, but not really. That is usually motivated by what one would do differently in a different timeline or whatever. It's different for me. I'm here to clear up somewhat understandable misconceptions.

You have less time in undergrad than in high school.

The cynical part of me lingering from my misanthropic time in high school would sarcastically react with, of course — are you stupid?!?

However, a part of me really did believe that I'd have more time to explore extracurriculars in college, yet somehow considered putting up an extremely low ceiling on extracurriculars in high school. Back then, I viewed them as basically time wasters and I only did enough to “have something” when I applied to undergrad studies, keep the extracurriculars at arm's length away. Why should I go to a basketball game?

Well, in college, you're completely on your own. At the very least, times for class and extracirriculars in high school are basically mutually exclusive. You're not going to have time to watch any athletic games in college when your 4pm-5pm freshman physics lecture is at the same time as most home games.

Is the set of sports not your cup of tea? Then fill anything else in place of sports.

That attitude of “doing enough extracirriculars to get into college” mindset is disposable in a very Machiavellian way, because that point of view implicitly assumes undergrad studies is the ultimate endgame and nothing else. I certainly hope not — not only because undergrad almost never is IRL, but the implications of that, if there were true, would indicate that life in general would be pretty meaningless. Pragmatically, undergrad is the road that leads you to either work, or a layover in either grad or doctorate school before work. (For some of you out there, you might never need undergrad studies to find your life success — and I'm not saying that carelessly, the state of higher education is drying up rather quickly after the Great Resignation.) For pragmatic and sincere philosophy, I hope you have something more going for you than a college degree — because for those who have made it here and are more than capable of graduating, your degree doesn't matter: your connections matter. No, I don't mean “connections” as used in conventional professional networking.

Your times doing extracirriculars (such as, but not limited to: clubs, sports of any level, volunteering, cultural club or center, and honor societies) are what make your college experience unique. Not just for your CV or résumé (though you better be able to put something down from doing co-ops and have at least 2-3 professors who you can write you strong recommendation letters by the time you graduate; or your better ask your college for a refund), but for your own self-development. If there isn't something of a long-term commitment from college that you can be proud of yet won't necessarily go on your résumé; then you haven't had a complete undergrad experience (and that could also be grounds for demanding a refund from your college, at least according to pragmatic philosophy).

Your mileage may vary when it comes to what college you're admitted into for undergrad. If you're attending a historically commuter undergrad college, I feel you. It's not gonna be easy, but you need to find of “your people” that you can connect with. Everyone is different, but you should at least know of one psycho-emotional place in spacetime you can take a break from those in your declared major. (Little did I know back then how large this manifold actually is...)

(Meanwhile, my alma mater somehow believes that its commuter students are in the minority regarding student body demographics post-COVID, when. Let me paraphrase Rorschach's quintessential prison scene quote from Watchmen: the commuters aren't guests among the dorm students of my alma mater — the dorm students are the actual guests living in the world of the commuters, and the commuters have collectively and benevolently allowed the dorm students to stay.)

In high school, one can get by through the process by telling themselves that they are forced to attend school. In college, you are here by choice (at least according to Socratic stoicism), so you should act accordingly.

By the time I pieced this all together, I realized I never attended an athletic game. However, I did find my group of people that I could connect with — almost too late, to be honest.

If you're in high school and you're the type of person that would find themselves at the PATHS event I attended; then understand this: go to that sports game. Go to that yearbook club meeting. Go to that end-of-the-season celebration for cross country running. Stop telling yourself you don't have time when you're gonna go home and watch TheRadBrad playthroughs or scroll on Tumblr (or whatever Zoomers doom scroll on now), and still have your.

Despite all of its downsides compared to college, at least most extracirriculars and class times can't overlap.