It is hard to grow when you are in your comfort zone

Author: Michelle Valkanas, 4th year Ph.D. Candidate in Biological Sciences

I once attended a workshop around self-advocacy and the speakers discussed how it was important to find ways to stand out; that it was our responsibility as students, professionals, and faculty to promote our achievements and showcase our skills. They made the point that while the work we are doing and the education that we have is impressive, we are sitting in a room full of people with similar achievements. We need to find ways to leverage ourselves by broadening our skills, increasing our community engagement, and developing a network.

They then said something that really resonated with me: You are not growing as an individual if you are comfortable. Wow! What a statement. It fascinated and terrified me, all at the same time. Like most people, I hate change. I like a routine, a predicted chain of events. I think that most people naturally thrive with structure. But their statement challenged this way of life. As humans, we tend to gravitate towards structure and routine because it makes us comfortable and provides a high level of success. But thriving does not always equal growth and at some point, success plateaus without growth.

The advice that followed was that we need to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. That it was important to find ways to challenge ourselves to the point of feeling uncomfortable. This sounds awful, right? But it makes a lot of sense. We tend to avoid things that make us uncomfortable (e.g. public speaking), but this workshop was telling us to do just the opposite. That by immersing ourselves in things that push us outside our comfort zones, we can begin to reach new levels of personal growth.

This semester I did just that. I have never considered myself a good writer and I knew that I had room to grow. Taking the internship with the D.U. Quark has allowed me to immerse myself in writing and science communication. Through this semester I have had the opportunity to participate in all aspects of science journalism from interviewing and writing to peer review and even a hosting a podcast. At times this semester was challenging; I felt like I did not know where to begin or how to properly highlight the accomplishments of my interviewee. My lack of confidence in my ability to interview, report, and write made this experience extremely uncomfortable.

Despite my lack of experience, though, I was able to produce several pieces of work that I am really proud of. My writing skills have improved and I have developed an appreciation for science journalism and creative writing. I did not undertake this journey on my own. It was incredible the amount of support that I received from Dr. Sarah Wright and Dr. Kristin Klucevsek, in the English Department at Duquesne University. They were always available to provide guidance, support, and edits every step of the way. I have learned so much this semester and am forever grateful for their patience and expertise. By pushing myself out of my comfort zone and into a place of discomfort, I have grown as an individual and have expanded my writing capabilities gaining more from this experience then I could have ever imagined.  

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