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From Dream to Game Plan

Published June 27, 2018

By Urooj Ansari

From Dream to Game Plan
From Dream to Game Plan

Urooj (left) with other students at the Global STEM Alliance Summit

From Dream to Game Plan

Urooj with her mentor at the first Global STEM Alliance in 2016

From Dream to Game Plan

Urooj (on left) at the 2017 STEM Education and Women Empowerment Conference in Hangzhou, China

This essay is part of a series of guest posts from Academy Members and Ambassadors. For more content by and about our Members and Ambassadors, click here.

I was matched with my first mentor in high school as part of the Academy’s 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures program. This program pairs female mentors with high school girls from around the world who have a strong interest in STEM. Mentors and mentees like me meet via Skype and work together to develop essential 21st-century skills like networking and leadership, and we also set goals to help mentees get closer to our dream careers.

When I first joined the 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures program as a high school junior, I knew I wanted to be a physician-scientist. The idea of working directly with patients and also getting to see the “behind-the-scenes” aspects of treatment fascinated me. Along with pursuing my passion for scientific research, this career path would enable me to give back. Although I was willing to do whatever I needed to get there, my goal seemed like a faraway dream and I had no way of making it more realistic.

At the time, I was completing a research internship in the Mechano-Microbiology Lab at Brooklyn College and working on my first research paper and presentation. After Googling numerous paper-writing techniques and practicing my PowerPoint for hours, I was still unhappy with the end product. After discussing it with my mentor and following up on some her suggestions, I was able to produce both a research paper and presentation that I took pride in. I then submitted my work to numerous competitions, winning first place in the New York Science and Engineering Fair and holding a Finalist position at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

"With the help of a mentor who was as invested in my ambitions as I was, my career goals no longer seem like abstract, far away dreams."

In the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I realized I didn’t know the first thing about college, or college applications. After I had taken my placement tests, my mentor walked me through the process of writing personal statements for college. Once I was accepted and had chosen a school, we worked on developing my time management and prioritization skills, both skills that are essential for college students. My mentor sent me worksheets to complete that helped me figure out how I was spending my time and a worksheet focused on how I would like to spend my time. During the last months of high school and the summer before college, I completed these worksheets consistently and learned how to fit schoolwork, all of my extra curriculars, along with family time, into one week.

During my freshman year of college, I was once again caught in a fog. With terms like “major,” “concentration,” and “academic focus” dominating the first-year student manual, I didn’t know what any of them meant. My mentor explained what a “major” was and helped me choose one that aligned with my interests. With my long-term career goals in mind, my mentor and I also worked together to find a placement in a research lab. We found a position at the Buxbaum Lab at the Icahn School of Medicine and then worked together to develop goals for me to work towards at the lab.

To help me get insight into the life of an MD-PhD student, my mentor introduced me to one of her colleagues who was a third-year MD-PhD student at the Icahn School of Medicine. After meeting her for coffee and hearing about her journey and her day-to-day life, I knew for certain that I had chosen the right career path to pursue.

With the help of a mentor who was as invested in my ambitions as I was, my career goals no longer seem like abstract, far away dreams. Working with her helped me change these goal into a game plan.

Change your goals into a game plan by joining one of our Global STEM Alliance Programs for students. And if you're already working as a STEM professional, pursuing graduate studies or a postdoctoral fellowship, you can help students follow in your footsteps by becoming a mentor.

Urooj is an undergraduate student at Hunter College. At The New York Academy of Sciences, she is an alumnus of the Next Scholars Program, a Senior Mentee in the 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures program, and an Academy Ambassador. She also serves as the social media manager @ComeBeBrainy. You can find her on Twitter @Urooj1998.