Lessons from another summer at Stanford

Sept. 29, 2019, 6:29 p.m.

Shortly after my CHEM 171 final exam and one last round of complaining about phase changes, electrochemistry and whatever other God-forsaken concepts were on that final, I went back to my room and took a nap. No scrambling to pack away the last of my things into a suitcase or two. No hurriedly cramming bed sheets, clothes and books that I never ended up reading into a Zipcar and subsequently a storage locker. Nothing. I had made plans for the second year in a row to stay on campus, this time to do research within the Anesthesiology Department. This, however, wasn’t my first ride on the proverbial rodeo. 

I spent my freshman summer as a Residential Counselor for Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies. Although my demanding days consisted of policing a bunch of high schoolers around our 8,180 acre-wide campus and teaching all sorts of physics ranging from mechanics to relativity, my experience was ultimately positive. The job description called for a 60-hour work week, sure, but I enjoyed always being on my toes. Besides, I got a kick out of witnessing my students’ and residents’ brutal teenage honesty and watching them navigate their pubescent years. I also acquired an otherworldly resistance to airport food, which is a useful superpower to have in the future. The Stanford campus may have been the constant throughout my first two years, its backdrop acting as the setting for many an Instagram post over both years, but my summers here were far from similar. 

If you’re not funneled into a summer at any of the acronymic programs that plague the greater Stanford area, it’s very easy to get into a rut. At my second academic year’s end, my friends and I compiled a list of things to do to stave off the monotony of another, less regimented summer on campus. Unfortunately, plans are often more ambitious in theory than in practice. Over summer quarter, we checked off maybe two things on that list. Instead, lab took up a majority of my days, followed by semi-nightly runs around campus.

There was a smattering of get-togethers every now and then, but ultimately, watching TV shows and movies till the wee hours of the morning became my plan of choice. As much as I loved binging “Grey’s Anatomy” (in a disturbingly short amount of time that shall be left undisclosed) and popping my classic movie cherry with films like “Taxi Driver” and “Airplane!”, I couldn’t help but feel the boredom that I so dreaded. It didn’t help that it was my second year here, so a lot of the novelty had lost much, if not all, of its luster. 

I’ll be the first to admit that the tyranny of choice was arresting in the beginning. However, I inevitably warmed up to the idea of spicing things up. I started going to the gym. I had weekly dinners with some of my friends (and yes, I indeed did some cooking). I scoured the Bay Area for a Popeye’s that sold the infamous chicken sandwich to no avail. I might as well throw this in there — this is a formal apology to Popeye’s, because I went to Chick-Fil-A soon after. 

The dichotomy between the two summers is what surprised me the most, the first involved a regimented schedule with forced (but delightful) interactions and friendships, while the second involved an independent endeavor where I was left to my own devices. Despite these differences, I derived happiness from both. 

My time at SPCS reminded me of the joy that accompanied working a job with a social aspect, turning me off from careers that consist of scut work and what I like to call professional “me time” (read: researcher). Sophomore summer, on the other hand, taught me to burn daylight in as unique a way as possible. These polar opposites burned significance into my life. That being said, you can bet money that I will spend junior somewhere elsewhere. 

Contact Justin Cortez at jcortez1 ‘at’ stanford.edu

Login or create an account