Only this past year did I truly discover environmental studies. I wish that I could tell you I had some glorious moment where fireworks burst and I realized the value of the natural world and the importance of improving the way in which humans interact with this delicate dimension. But my passion for environmental studies and the discovery of how I could seamlessly combine this interest with economics was more comparable to a slow, groggy awakening from a stiff-necked nap on an uncomfortably long bus ride. To be clear, that is not to say that I am comparing my life to a terrible bus trip- far from it. But my academic pursuits were neither special nor particularly impassioned until I found the Sustainable Development program at Columbia. Through experimenting with classes, talking with alumni, and the mere act of natural maturation and realization that there exist problems greater than my daily struggle of 8am class, I realized that I cared about the environmental and inequality concerns across our planet.
Economics had interested me since high school. I had always felt like it was one of the few truly applicable classes. These were real concepts that drove our lives forward- rather than abstract poems, algebraic equations, or the history of generations past. Not to say that these things are not important, but to me I did not see the same in-the-moment urgency of their study as I did in economics. And the bottom line is that economics is the study of people, their interactions, and their behavior. I have always been a people person, loving to connect with and understand others, so to me economics became the study of people. It naturally fell into place with the environmental side of things- another largely people-driven dimension. Developmental economics and water crisis issues soon became the main niche of my interests within the field of sustainable development.
The final interest that has contributed more to my decision to pursue research than anything else is, oddly enough, my passion for running. Running is a sport where you are never satisfied. I cannot quite explain the feeling of running a personal best time. It is an elation and happiness that emits from something deep down within. If you have ever run at a fairly competitive level you understand. If not, I feel sorry for your lack of this experience. Running can produce the purest of highest and the strangest of smiles. To push oneself past a limit you did not know was possible renders the rawest form of satisfaction. Then something happens. You want more. Greedy, hungry, wondering what else can be conquered. There are no defined limits on personal speed. Nothing is written to say that you cannot run faster. So you train harder and try again- trying to be faster, chasing the feeling of improvement. As if to prove something, though you are not entirely sure from whom you seek approval. Perhaps it is yourself.
How does this relate to research? This same principle of pursuit is applicable to both fields. There is no limit to human knowledge and improvement, no set end goal. The joy of discovery and self improvement is shared in both worlds. Also, the idea of teamwork is similarly essential. Running becomes more intimate because I share every moment of pain and success with my teammates. I love nothing more than working hard with others who share a mutual respect, understanding and drive. The same applies to research. Working with others to break the boundaries of academia is quite parallel. I have learned that my people-person disposition translates into a love to work with others. I find that greater things are accomplished in numbers, and the joys of success are sweeter when shared amongst others who have trudged through the hardship alongside you.
So as it seems, I am perpetually running and researching towards the New and Better, continually redefining what this means for myself and to the world around me.