Ozel: Feeding the Brain

Reviving a lost desire to learn.

by Pelin Ozel | 4/13/17 12:45am

People go to college to build unforgettable experiences, meet amazing people and learn to be independent. Yet, last year I had forgotten one of the main reasons I chose to go to Dartmouth. Amongst the newness of college, as my freshman year closed, I became deluged with the routine that is school: wake up, go to class, grab something quick to eat, hide in the corner of 3FB and stay there until my workload seemed just a bit lighter. Whether to grab Foco or Hop for lunch grabbed my attention more than any news article. My reasons to plow through classwork changed from having a desire to learn to needing to get studying done. 

Everyone at Dartmouth enters college with a passion for a certain topic, whether it is health policy, South Asia or dystopian literature from the 20th century. Building a career in the field of neuroscience became my passion. Sometimes it takes a few feet of snow and a bit of isolation in the Lodge to reignite an old craving to learn. During my sophomore winter, I rediscovered why I was majoring in “the brain.” My head spun with new questions to ask my professors. I would tap my foot waiting to go back to Moore Hall to escape to the comfort of the laboratory.

How did I regain the will to learn? I stopped taking two-hour lunches and started working at a lab. After sending email after email to professor after professor, I found a subject I was genuinely interested in that made me want to return to the laboratory. There is nothing more rewarding than feeling like you are a part of the research that you hear about in class. I began to feel a different sense of belonging away from the culture and bubble at Dartmouth. I used to scoff at how much people loved what they study. Now, I realize that loving what you study can be rare, but it is essential. Many freshmen have it — but they have to learn to keep it.

Getting caught up in freshman year can make you numb, whether it is becoming close with random people whose faces you cannot recognize in passing, attempting to memorize all the Greek houses on campus or participating in as many clubs as possible. Even before I arrived at Dartmouth, applying to colleges, graduating and transitioning to school distracted me and made me feel apathetic toward neuroscience and my academic goals.

I hope the Class of 2021 will carry its zeal for learning into freshman year and beyond, because among the commotion of college, zeal can become buried under exposure to the culture and community of Dartmouth. Without repeating another “be yourself” cliché, I believe that holding onto what you love is essential when most of the time you spend at Dartmouth classes will be looking at powerpoint slides, problem sets or a paperback copy of a play. 

Although you may have heard of the freshman plague, the real disease at Dartmouth is apathy, and it can spread like a virus. Not having a passion for anything can normalize the routine of schoolwork and, when you are surrounded by diligent students who are constantly breaking barriers, it can make you feel like you are not “Dartmouth.” The lack of passionate proactivity can make you feel like you are missing out, that you are not a part of a community and that you are not good enough. 

College can be a cumbersome balancing act, especially when others try to influence your beliefs. You may find that your niche is not academic, artistic or social, but we are all partial to something, though it may become compromised during this stage of transition. Even if you carry this passion through your freshman year, do not let people trivialize what you care about. 

  Do not lose that penchant toward sports medicine. Do not forget that proclivity for song. Never satiate that appetite for 19th century history. My favorite question has always been “what can you spend hours talking about?” I promise, you will always be surprised at what people will say and what they care about most. Next time you talk to someone new, instead of mentioning the weather or asking about their class schedule, ask them about their passions. You might find a new perspective into Dartmouth’s community.