It was finally Thursday, and we had almost survived an entire week of the program. We had our first seminar with Dr. Ray Barfield, on the role of storytelling and personal world-views (including religious belief) in complex medical decision making. All of us left the North Building visibly in awe, as the seminar had a tremendous impact on us and our conceptions of our possible future careers.
A few hours later, as we finished work, we were excited for another first for the program: our first discussion night.
As more fellows started to trickle into the Bryan Center, the conversation remained relatively light. Though we were starting to get closer as a group, especially after we all faced the “extreme challenges” of the games in the low-ropes bonding activities earlier in the week, we were still just getting to know each other, and most of our conversations revolved around small talk.
Suddenly, a question coming out of thin air immediately sparked a discussion on death, religion, how our views on these influence the ways we lived our lives, and how these change our conception of science and medicine. One of the fellows asked, “What does everyone here think happens after death?”
This was one of the first times we had had a collective conversation on a deep issue, really getting to know each other’s beliefs and our extraordinary abilities to engage with such complex topics. It was the very first of many times this summer when I felt the highest level of respect for my peers, always amazed by how well everyone could connect to a seemingly random topic.
However, as fast as we started that conversation, we transitioned away from it just as quickly, jumping from topics about life, medicine, philosophy, Duke, even to our social lives. But, before we knew it, our session was over and we still had so much to talk about.
After this first session, we continued to hold discussions just like this; but, this session just opened the gates for us to relate to each other on so many different levels. Because of this one discussion, we began to feel more open with each other, free to share all our beliefs and opinions in thoughtful and engaging conversations. Never in my life had I felt so supported, yet simultaneously challenged, by a group of my peers, being able to engage in topics that I thought were only of interest to me. In this community, I found 19 other people who not only shared my unique interests, but also shared my openness to engage in conversation and learn from others’ views and perspectives on different issues.
Furthermore, these discussions prompted my interest in issues I never knew existed. So many of our discussions stemmed off of topics brought up in seminars, in which we learned unique and unimaginable ways to combine science with the humanities. These conversations not only showed me the interdisciplinary nature of science as a whole, but it showed me how one conversation that engaged different perspectives could spark so many different interdisciplinary nuances in what seemed like a simple topic.
In all honesty, we did not return to that room in the Bryan Center too many times. We met regularly for some discussion nights during the first few weeks, but we soon realized that these conversations could not be scheduled and could not be forced. Instead, these conversations started to pop up in every aspect of our program, whether we were cooking in the kitchen in Edens, walking to lab, or just sitting in the common room watching a show. In fact, we found often ourselves at dinners out in Durham where we could jump from talking about how good the food was to how science impacts our lives at a deep level, definitely gaining strange glances from people at neighboring tables. We began to grow a community where we were always ready for conversation, but what this conversation would entail was always unpredictable. I can distinctly recall many conversations about topics as meaningless as the TV show, The Bachelorette, and just as many about life-threatening issues and important political events, all of which were never planned and simply sparked naturally. I was able to learn from each of these conversations and shape my own world view, while simultaneously feeling myself getting closer to my peers and appreciating this amazing community even more.
Going back to that first discussion in the Bryan Center, we were all surprised at how engaging it was, and never thought it would happen again after it ended. Thankfully, that discussion began a bigger, summer-long discussion, which will hopefully begin an even bigger, three-year-long discussion. This program, especially this one event, gave me a community that I never expected to appreciate so much. There is no other group I would like to learn, grow, and discuss with for the rest of my time at Duke and for the rest of my life.
Shikhar is planning to study Psychology, while completing the Science & Society certificate and a Chemistry minor, on a pre-med track.