What drives me: Giving more, taking less

Here is the first entry of our 1st SOESTblog Writing Contest “What drives you?”! Each week, contestants will share what drives them to do their research day in and day out. Each article will be posted for 1 week and winners will be determined by the most # of reads on the site! Help Chantel this week by sharing her article!


FaceCrop_CChangContributed by Chantel Chang

I remind myself daily about why I subject myself to the challenges of graduate school (e.g., lack of sleep, free time, and money, feelings of incompetence, etc.) in order to answer questions from myself and others like, “Why am I back in school at the age of 30 while most of my peers own homes, are starting families, and get free weekends?”

The initial driver was that I knew what I did not want. I could not stand to stay in my previous career as an occupational therapist because it was missing something for me on a personal level. I believe everyone has a natural strength – a gift, and I recognized from grade school that mine was in mathematics and analysis. Today I realize how important it is for me to use mathematics, and to keep learning and growing. I chose to study oceanography because of the complexity and dynamic nature of the ocean. With an interest in biophysical modeling, I create computer models to assist with answering questions like, “What are the major physical, biological, and behavioral drivers that impact genetic or larval connectivity in the ocean?” Or “How might computer models be used to assess and improve placement of marine protected area boundaries?” I could study oceanography for a lifetime and still have more questions.

However, my primary driver goes beyond mathematics and my interests. My primary driver is that I strive to give back to Hawai‘i. As a fifth generation child of Hawai‘i, my favorite memories were of surfing and bodyboarding with my family in the crystal-clear blue ocean, while taking lunch breaks to feast on spam musubi and Hawaiian Sun juice. I’ve fished for ‘ahi and mahimahi, snorkeled and dove the Hawaiian coral reefs, and hiked the tall mountains of O‘ahu. Hawai‘i has provided a tremendously beautiful home and I hope to give back to the islands more than what has been given to me. I hope that many future generations will be able to enjoy Hawai‘i as I have. I’m not quite sure of what my specific contribution will be, but I believe that a deeper understanding of the ocean and environment is a good starting point.

During those moments of exhaustion, which are common in graduate school, I remind myself of how lucky I am to be allowed to live here in Hawai‘i of all the places in the world (less than 1%, about 2 in 10,000 people in the current world population, live in Hawai‘i) and to be in a situation where I am able to return to school for a career change. I focus on what I am grateful for, the give-take relationship between the land and humans, and I realize that the stresses of graduate school are temporary and trivial compared to those that Hawai‘i is under. Imagine the burden of Hawai‘i – the rise of industrialization, an increasing population and pollution have put tremendous stress on the islands, corals and marine life over the years. It’s common to hear stories of the ‘old days’ from my father’s generation when fish were plentiful and marine life was thriving. But now, “there’s not as many fish” in those same places where they used to be abundant. Even in my lifetime, I can remember what it was like to see open land instead of condominium upon condominium.

With everything back in perspective, I continue on with a renewed spirit and the mantra “give more, take less.” What can I do for Hawai‘i?

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