The first semester of biochemistry was enough to make any tough, grown man cry. I thought it was bad, but it was nothing compared to biochemistry this semester. The long and short of it is that Biochemistry difficult. You lose sleep over it, you worry incessantly over it, and-in my case at least- you lose hair over it. I'm not lying. Right before the biochemistry exam is handed out, I spend a good week stressing out over it and watching as clumps of hair fall off whenever I brush. I have regions on my head where most of my hair is about 3 inches long (a good 9 inches shorter than the rest of my hair). I can almost map out my biochemistry difficulty level based on the surface area of the patches of short hair on my head. I can even roughly estimate, based on length, which exam led to that particular hair loss episode.
How can anyone freak out so much? To the point where they lose hair? Well, imagine that you are in a class and your ENTIRE GRADE depends on two exams. Also, imagine this class being worth more credits than any other class you're taking. There's a lot of weight to each exam. These in turn, depend on over a dozen professors who each have different specifications of good versus bad scientific thinking. Hence the worry, the panic, and the hair loss.
Before I go into details, let me describe the setup of the course. I sit in a class full of America's finest and brightest Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biophysics, you-name-it-fancy-science-program PhD students. In other words, uber-genius students (and fellow science geeks). This class is taught by expert-in-the-field professors that have gotten their research published in prestigious scientific journals such as "Cell." They lecture for 1-3 days on any subject material they're experts at and then submit a section for the exam at the end of 7 weeks. It's pretty incredible just how many great minds I've had the chance to listen to in these past few months. I mean, I've read papers of theirs before I had a face to the name...when I was working on a paper for class, working on my master's thesis, you name it. I mean, you can Google these people and see the sorts of stuff their laboratories have discovered. It's pretty cool...and I'm not just saying it because I am a science geek. It's also cool listening to everything from the insider's point of view...the stories of squabbles between one of the professors and another prominent scientist were particularly funny.
This final was particularly heinous. There were 9 sections to this exam (it had been 3-7 sections per exam until now). The topics and requirements of each professor covered a lot of stuff spanning several months and I was already almost burned out from all of the other finals and presentations I had to finish up. Even so, I had built up my confidence and prepared all that I could in the preceding week by getting my notes together looking over stuff beforehand. I felt like I could handle it when I walked into the final class that Friday. I was pumped. I figured we would get 7 sections like we got the last time...so finding out about the 9 sections was the first blow. However, I did not let this get to me. I printed the exam out and didn't take a look at it until I got on the subway back. I looked over the exam and everything in my mind went blank and panic overcame me. The worst part about getting this exam was the doubt. It just looked impossible. It looked like too much. Yeah, I could get a few sections complete...but 9 in one week?! IMPOSSIBLE. I was thoroughly convinced that I could not do it. It typically took me one day per section...there was no way I could get this many done in one week.
I didn't waste time crying. I didn't waste time complaining. I just read things or researched them until they made sense (or at least I hope they made sense, only the final grade will tell). I took it one section at a time...or at least I tried to do so. I pretty much did the same things I did when I worked on my last exam. However, I changed up a few things about my prayer life since last time. Tempted as I was to maximize time and efficiency, I prayed the rosary every morning. I took time to pray for God to help a friend of mine score a sweet job. (Congrats again to my friend, blogger, website designer, neighbor, and newest Computer Science Department Administrator!) I took time to pray for my uncle, who is still in hospice care but doing a lot better than he was during Easter. I took time to pray for my more private but still extremely important intentions.
I also prayed for myself. I still suck at praying for myself, but I found comfort in it. The certainty that I could finish this exam grew with each day, fueled by the idea that I had a bunch of people up there rooting for me. I had even purchased a few more saint cards to add to my prayer arsenal...Saint Thomas More and Saint Aloysius. I could not find Saint Joseph Cupertino's card to save my life. I mean, I had heard of Saint Joseph Cupertino and was hoping to find a card for him...but all the "college student" holy cards were gone by the time I got to the Holy Face Monastery gift shop (go figure, it's Finals). Yet, I kept getting drawn to Saint Aloysius. I had never heard of Saint Aloysius before...but hey, I'm not one to ignore Divine Providence when it comes knocking. Divine Providence seemed to be guiding me that day because it turns out that Saint Aloysius is the patron saint of young students (can I still be considered young at 25?).
I even made sure that I took the time to go to mass on Sunday. I had gotten 3 sections finished Friday and Saturday and was "on time" as far as my grueling self-imposed exam schedule went. However, I had stayed up pretty late working on the third section and had to get up early to go to mass. I kept remembering the last time I did this, my resolve to start putting God first, and I actually managed to kick some major temptation tuckus. Don't get me wrong, I still give into temptation...but it's been getting easier for me to say no to this particular temptation these days. Okay, small confession, I did take some biochemistry notes to read on my walk to mass and back. However, I did not even think about even sneaking a peek during mass. This was my time with God and, needless to say, it was the best time I had last weekend. Tired as I was, I was somewhat refreshed by the time mass was over and I even made the time to kneel before Christ after mass and pray for the strength to go on for that week and the courage to face my doubt. It must have worked because by Sunday night, I had 5 sections finished...more than I did the weekend I skipped mass. After Sunday, I worked on one section per day until Thursday night.
During all of this time, I kept praying. As corny as it was, I even helped get myself ready for each section by watching this video before each section. Huge thanks to Defend Us In Battle for posting it....I bet you never realized how much I needed it when you shared it.Praying certainly helped my doubts disappear. As crazy as it sounds, even the idea of failure wasn't too bad. I figured that if this happened, I would simply take the summer off and walk the Camino de Santiago to figure out my next path in life. That's still my plan if I bomb the final and fail out of school. Initially, failure felt imminent due to my inability to complete the exam...and my fear of failure. I conquered these fears. Though failure due to bombing the exam is still a potential reality, I conquered the fear associated with this reality. If I do fail, I leave it up to God and am certain that He will take care of me in some way. If my 20 year old self could hear me now, she'd think that I was crazy. However, though life is certainly more difficult than it was when I was 20...I've been better able to handle everything with this type of thinking.
Yet, praying through this exam certainly became an opportunity for me to test my commitment to God's plan and my trust in God. In fact, at the end of my exam....before I returned to Facebook, before I started painting, and before I put on some Doctor Who...I prayed again. This time, it was a prayer of Thanksgiving. I prayed the "Divine Mercy" chaplet and contemplated what it meant to truly trust in Jesus Christ. You know what? I think it worked this time. My inner "doubt demon" has been conquered (at least as far as biochemistry and school is concerned) and I am having an easier time leaving everything up to God.
The hair I didn't lose throughout this exam can attest to this.