First-Gen Graduate Student: Victor Tse (Molecular, Cell & Developmental Biology)

selfie of victor tse smiling in lab coatBackground: My name is Victor Tse, and I am a first-generation Chinese-American college student. I am 22 years old, and I was born and raised all my life within the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. As an undergraduate that is a part of the 2020 graduating class, I majored in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) at UCSC, and am now pursuing the MCDB graduate program at UCSC.

What motivated you to go to college?: My biggest motivation for going to college stems from my dreams of becoming a scientist in medicine, but more influentially, my motivations come from a familial and socioeconomic perspective. Being a child of parents who immigrated to the United States in the 1990s, the challenges that inherently accompany drastic changes to the way of life continues to plague and affect my family to this day. Being non-English speakers with only middle-school equivalent education, finding well-paying jobs that are not physically demanding were impossible for my parents. Furthermore, though trivial to some, the additional weight of the housing market and cost of living in the Bay Area proved to amplify the stress and anxiety my parents already developed from being overwhelmed in a new country. As a result of their jobs and financial worries, I felt that the unspoken physical and mental consequences of these responsibilities on my parents were difficult for them to confront alone. Knowing that a higher-education opened more avenues and opportunities, my socioeconomic circumstances and career-oriented ambitions have motivated me to go to college in hopes that this would alleviate some of the burdens my parents have been shouldering for the longest time. 

What's the biggest challenge you encountered as a first-gen student and how did you overcome it?: The biggest challenge I encountered as a first-gen student was becoming more accustomed to being away from my family. Growing up, my family and I did everything together --- whether we went on a small road trip, or spent time at home. As such, being on my own for the first time, as a college student no less, proved to be challenging in adjusting to an unfamiliar lifestyle and living environment. Undoubtedly, this contributed to my feelings of homesickness. Notably, during exam seasons or times of great anguish, memories of my parents would instantly flood my mind, exacerbating my feelings of being homesick. Thus, to overcome this, I became more active in calling my parents before and after these moments to collect myself and gather some sense of ease through their calm voices. In time, these phone calls and short text messages proved to be a pillar of support that allowed me to feel less homesick and anxious about being away from home. 

How has your background helped you?: My background has helped me immensely in that my upbringing has taught me to be persistent and consistent in taking the steps I need to take to achieve my goals and aspirations. 

What would you tell my first-year self now?: Do not be afraid to reach out to faculty members, professionals, and/or recruiters. Even if a potential opportunity does not lead anywhere immediately or comes to fruition, just keep in mind that you do not lose anything for taking the initiative to shape your future. There will always be another opportunity to learn and gain something valuable. 

What was the best thing about your college experience?: I like learning and being able to apply the things I learned, so the best thing about my college experience was getting directly involved with campus research. I have always found biology to be confusing and fascinating at the same time. To elaborate, I have always learned through textbooks and classes that present facts and relevant observations on a particular subject. However, this always left me confused, pondering questions like "why does it work" and the "what-ifs" in relation to a real-world context. By being able to conduct laboratory research under the guidance of faculty members, these confusions and questions of mine would then lead to moments of realization and amazement. What we read from biology books, and how it works and is applied in a real-world setting, always left me awestruck and this exact feeling itself is what I would describe as the best thing about my undergraduate experience as a first-generation college student.

How has being a first-gen student influenced you (and/or your work) now?: Being a first-gen student has influenced me profoundly in that I have become more aware of my privilege in being able to pursue higher education, and in realizing that I should not take this achievement for granted. More importantly, however, being a first-gen student has allowed me to realize that I shouldn’t feel as if I am an imposter. At the beginning of my college experience, I felt out of place and embarrassed because my peers would talk about interests and hobbies that differed greatly from mine; notably on topics that involved out-of-country trips with family, and extravagant pastimes that were impossible for me to even consider or partake in as a child from a working-class family. Once I found a clique that understood me well and had common ground with respect to our upbringings, it made me realize that I was not alone in feeling the way I did. Being a first-gen student not only allowed me to meet and become lifelong friends with other first-gen students, but it also revealed to me that first-gen individuals are truly brave and courageous in the way they dedicate themselves to pursuing a college education. Whether for personal reasons or “bigger-than-life” ambitions, the experiences and stories shared amongst first-gen students have gradually overshadowed my symptoms of imposter syndrome, which has allowed me to feel more appreciative and prideful about what it means to be a first-gen student.