Marta Wegorzewska recently received her PhD in Immunology from the University of California, San Francisco. She is passionate about science communication and educates women about pregnancy on her blog, StorkPhD. She is originally from New York City and enjoys running half marathons and spending weekends exploring the outdoors with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?
The Penguin of Reason
I rub my bloodshot eye as I sip the coffee that fuels my addiction. The sun rises as I read through my thesis for final edits. Suddenly, a penguin walks through the door of my room wearing a sombrero. He says, “Marta, pack your bags. You are going to Boston.” In my sleep-deprived stupor, I obey his order.
The penguin traveled to San Francisco to inform me that I am one of the five budding science communicators chosen to be a journalist for the Naturejobs Career Expo. I am going to Boston to be a journalist. I wanted to scream it for everyone to hear. I grab my freshly pressed suit and MacBook Air, and I follow the penguin out the door of my apartment for Boston.
As the cab makes its way to the airport, a moment of silence invites feelings of self-doubt. The reality of my task in Boston starts to settle in. Suddenly, my excitement is overcome by a fear of failure. What if I don’t meet expectations? What will people think when they find out I am a scientist and not a journalist? Am I capable of doing this?
I ask the cab driver to turn around. I am not ready to risk failure. To my surprise, the penguin does not question my decision and asks that I take him to the place that first sparked my interest in science communication. “Can you please take us to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital,” I say to the cab driver. The words flowed effortlessly.
I take the penguin to labour and delivery on the fifteenth floor of the UCSF hospital. An aroma of happiness fills the hallway as we stare at the babies only a few hours old through a glass window. A year ago, I met a woman here who confided in me about the fear she felt during her delivery. It was obvious to me this fear stemmed from a lack of education about pregnancy. She is not alone. Countless women hide their fear of childbirth under a layer of joy that comes with welcoming a new member to the family. I knew then I wanted to empower patients by educating them about their health, and I would use my scientific background to accomplish my goal. That day I wrote my first article.
I feel my confidence return as I recall my experience with the woman who inspired me to pursue a career in science communication. The penguin must have noticed because in that moment he takes off his massive sombrero, leans closer and whispers, “All you need to do is tell a great story.” Finally, I understand why the penguin appeared in my room. The penguin is my voice of reason. He guided me back on track in my moment of self-doubt.
The unimaginable happens as the plane lands at Logan International Airport. I wake up in San Francisco to the sound of my alarm. I must have fallen asleep in the midst of editing my thesis. I struggle to comprehend the dream that felt too real. With only a few hours left to meet my deadline, I quickly refocus to gain sense of reality. I finish editing and click the submit button. Today, I graduate and receive my PhD, and tomorrow, I will be a journalist sharing my scientific stories with the rest of the world.
The moral of this story is to listen to your dreams, no matter how unrealistic they may appear in the morning. As Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Dream big and let the impossible be a welcomed challenge. Never fear failure as the only way to truly fail is by not trying. Ignore the self-doubt trying to sabotage your success and always listen to the penguins appearing in your dreams.