The Culmination of Science & Society

Huang Fellow Venkat Shashank Vege Reflects on His Experience This Summer.

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”

– Joseph Campbell

As I stood in front of the materialization of my summer’s progress, a trace of sweat lined my forehead. They seemed to be able to sense fear and immediately looked over at me. I fidgeted, as I watched them stride over – it was a group of them and I stood alone. They came to a screeching halt in front of me, eyes attached to their target.

“This seems very interesting. What exactly is your team doing here?”

In the split second before I responded, I realized this was my first time representing something larger than myself in the science world – it was my first time being a hero. I had never been a part of a poster symposium. I had never been a part of substantial bench research. I didn’t even know how to properly use a pipette before this summer started.

So, did I have the capacity to represent an entire laboratory? Could I be a hero in this moment, or was I another fake?

The moment this summer I took this battle as my own was when I realized it was something I could not fight by myself. Each and every Huang Fellow was undergoing something similar – we were all fighting to become individuals that stood for something, that represented something. The immense pressure of having to meticulously present such nuanced science in a fashion that did justice to the data while allowing the layman to understand is a task tougher than expected. It called for a pure understanding of the material one had been studying and researching. It called for a deeper exploration of the questions one had been asking. It called for all of us, as Huang Fellows, to step outside of our typical classroom mindset – one that relied on textbook pages and Google searches – and into the world of formative, paradigm shifting research. Answers were not found in a book anymore; rather, we discovered them and could someday publish them ourselves.

Hence, we transformed. Not separately, but together. We realized that reading books on our own would not be as impactful as conversing with each other about them. We realized that searching up articles about the animal rescue services would not be as powerful as actually visiting the rescue centers together. Little steps like these that emphasized the importance of not only collaboration, but also exposure to the phenomena were what built our new mindset. As a group, we were realizing the power that true curiosity and drive has for answering certain questions and asking even more. Now, we were not embarrassed to say ‘I don’t know the answer to that”, rather inclined to say “I will do what I can to answer it”.
I could be a hero. We could all be heroes, because we were shown this summer that true failure stems from the failure to question, not from the failure to know. The Huang Fellow program created such an environment that drove home a unique mindset that was solely dependent on curiosity and personal drive. If we wanted to, we could achieve anything.

“This seems very interesting. What exactly is your team doing here?”

And so, I presented. As did every member of my Huang Fellow family. Although in front of different posters, we stood together and we stood strong. Something as simple as a singular goal of presenting a research poster has turned into so much more than that. It turned into a journey for us to reshape ourselves. This entire summer as a Huang Fellow has changed the way we acted, thought, and projected our ideas

The vision we share is simple. We aim to impact our society through actions that we take, utilizing the platform we were gifted with. We aim to be the voice of the people that cannot speak for themselves. We aim to represent something larger than one’s self. We aim to be heroes.

And now, we can. To say it all started with a poster session would be quite an understatement.

Venkat Shashank Vege, Huang Fellow ’22

Venkat Shashank VegeVenkat is from Aurora, Illinois, and is pursuing a double major in Neuroscience and Chemistry.