My mom likes to introduce me by telling a childhood story. She’s told the same one for years, but it never fails to crack her up. (Watch out—she will genuinely cry from laughter!) It goes like this:
I was in second grade, and I was taking the ESL test. It’s straightforward—they show you flashcards, and you name them in English. I breezed through tree and house; but when I saw a bird, I fell silent.
“Don’t you know what a bird is?” my mom asked.
Cheeks red, I responded, “I knew it was a bird, I just wasn’t sure what species.”
At this point we’re both chortling, and she tells me that aiyah, Michelle, you were always so serious as a child.
Which is a fair analysis—I was shy. I overthought. And I was a perfectionist. If I didn’t have the best answer or the most interesting remark, I was often too scared to speak at all.
But I love formulating answers, and I love talking to people. So going into high school, I told myself this mindset would change. I would shoot every shot and carpe every diem, fear be darned.
Like all new things, it was difficult. The learning curve was so steep it may as well have had a vertical asymptote. (If you liked that math joke, ask me about my calculus-themed promposal!)
Fortunately, life has a way of placing us in situations that help us grow. Sophomore year, I volunteered to teach STEM classes to middle schoolers. The chaos of pre-teens with pent-up quarantine energy is unparalleled—needless to say, I was terrified. But I found solace in the familiarity of science—as I rambled about CRISPR-Cas9 and coral ecology, I became more comfortable speaking to others.
I learned that Shrek is an icon, Minecraft is a competitive sport, and I should never click links in the Zoom chat—lest I be lured into a Rickroll. I also discovered that it didn’t matter whether my presentation was perfect or even if I acted a little weird.
What mattered was watching students who’d never heard of engineering before prototyping egg parachutes and Rube Goldberg machines. What mattered was seeing Vicky return for a second year, evolving from student to TA. What mattered was watching a kid’s face light up with the joy of learning something new.
That’s what I hope to accomplish with the Duke Research Blog. As a freshman, I know the endless possibilities on campus—while a blessing—can be intimidating. STEM and academia have seemingly high barriers to entry. But I’ve also seen that discovering something new can be the best feeling in the world. I hope to play a small part in helping you, the reader, get there.
And as a baby Dukie, I hope to connect with the inspiring community here. Whether through a Research Blog interview or a quick conversation on the crowded C1, I am so excited to meet y’all.
So, if you see me around campus, come say hello! And if you’re a people-person-but-introverted like me and could use a conversation starter, here are a couple:
- Tell me what songs you’re jamming to! I’m currently looping Gracie Abrams and Wallows. Debussy and Tchaikovsky are also regulars—String Quartet No. 1 goes so hard.
- Talk about football! As a lifelong Cincinnatian, Joe Burrow is our king.
- Share whatever you’re working on! Whether it be uber-complicated math (shoutout to Nikhil) or the perfect matcha latte (shoutout to Krishna), I’d love to know what you’re experimenting with.
Until then, remember to stay hydrated and keep discovering new things. ☺️
Post by Michelle Li, Class of 2027