Pursuing Leadership for the Right Reasons
MADELINE CUBA “Stressed,” “overwhelmed,” “done.”—all buzzwords of the CNS community. Every major has its challenges at a school like UT, but any science-oriented college kid can attest that there’s just a different type of stress and commitment associated with being a science major. The self-actualization category of Maslow’s hierarchy is easily a representation of everything that’s last priority on a day to day basis, leadership included.
I am currently a Peer Learning Assistant (PLA) for general chemistry where I perform the same duties as a TA during lectures. When I was first deciding whether or not do apply to this program, little pre-med me was thirsty for some nice résumé padding. My only apprehension with joining was taking away time from my studies. I know a couple of people who did not apply for that reason.
Now, around a year has gone by since I made that decision and I’m no longer pre-med. So what’s the point in staying in besides the contractual obligation? Is it actually worth my time? I decided to ask some of my peers in the program about their take on student leadership.
According to third year Biochemistry and Accounting major Taylor Abercrombie, who is a Senior PLA and an officer in the Texas Business Healthcare Association, “[leadership] forces me to be the best I can be because I’m setting an example for others.”
“In general, people who graduate from here are going to be very successful in what they do. Getting leadership experience here will help you be a whole lot more successful in the real world.”
Similarly, second year Biochemistry major Natalie Nguyen (a PLA and manager at Sunrise Teahouse) emphasizes the benefit of “time management—you have to learn how to manage everything when your life isn’t just centered around school.”
However, both agree that it’s common for science students to overlook these benefits because of focus on studies or other obligations.
When asked if he thinks science students are interested in leadership, Taylor responded, “not really. I would say pre-med [students are], but often for the wrong reasons. It’s just a checkmark on some people’s résumés.”
We all innately know leadership is an opportunity for personal growth. But there are lots of ways to grow, so what makes being a student leader worth the commitment?
As a member of the PLA program, Taylor exclaims, “Getting to see students when they have their ‘a-ha’ moment is really rewarding for me. They come into office hours and say ‘I got a 100 on the test!’ and I get to celebrate with them.”
In my experience, I spent my entire first semester as a PLA feeling lost and like I had no clue what I was doing. It’s easy to forget your purpose when success isn’t necessarily measurable. However, something beautiful happened at the end of the semester. One of the freshman (whose questions I frequently answered) asked which class section I would work in the next semester, to which I politely inquired why she wanted to know. Her response: “I want to be in the same section because you’re so personable and helpful—you’re my favorite PLA!”
That moment alone was enough to inspire my continuation as a student leader. Not only is it fulfilling, but I am a better communicator and learned that I enjoy teaching.
In some final words of wisdom, Natalie states, “in college, you are still trying to find yourself. You have to be passionate about something to be able to speak well about it, whether it’s for applications or personal statements. People can see your passion. They can tell.”
The college experience is a valuable and fleeting one – spend it wisely.