An internship in a renowned laboratory in the US, even before she commenced her studies. Nicole (20) couldn’t have wished for a better career. But once she was back in Holland she didn’t turn out to be as brilliant as she had hoped she was. And then there was that annoying diabetes.
Nicole comes from a secondary school where everyone was very clever and highly motivated. It was a small environment in which she felt safe. Her final exams didn’t cause her much stress and she went on to study biology.
Before she even began the course Nicole was invited by a classmate’s father to do a two month internship with a renowned laboratory in the United States. He thought I was brilliant. That was awesome.’
She did find it a bit scary to go to the other side of the world all on her own and she worried about the level of her English. ‘I was very nervous, but once I got there, I was the star. Compared to all the South Koreans and Swedes my English was excellent.’
Because Nicole enjoyed it so much there, she knew for certain that she would want to work in a laboratory in the future. ‘That internship was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. But they are the world leaders there. To earn yourself a job there, you have to graduate with honours at the least. In those days I didn’t have a realistic view on that and I became very ambitious.’
Not good grades
Once she was back in Holland, Nicole was very engaged with her biology studies and she got on well with her fellow students as well. ‘Before going to America I had been very nervous, but when I came back, I thought my nerves wouldn’t bother me again for the rest of my life. I experienced the first week in an adrenaline cloud. I wasn’t in the least bit worried about the exams either, because I was brilliant anyway. What could possibly go wrong?’
The good grades she was expecting didn’t come. ‘I fell back down to earth hard and went into a dip. I went from the highest point all the way to rock bottom. I was in a very bad place for a while. My ambitions went out the window. The only thing I could think about was surviving the day.’
The bad grades were partly the result of her diabetes. ‘I become very nervous before exams and then my sugar levels shoot up. I can’t help that. It frustrates me and then they shoot up even higher.’
Nicole thinks her diabetes and fear of exams have an effect on each other. ‘I don’t know how, but they definitely enhance each other.’ Another reason is that it is hard to calculate how much insulin she needs in a stressful situation. ‘There is a risk that I inject too much, which means my levels will be so low that I won’t be able to take an exam for the next three hours.’
She has found out that she can pass off a lot onto her diabetes. More than if you suffer from a depression, for instance. ‘If you mention your diabetes then people say: “Oh, no, of course” and then you’re allowed to resit all the exams.’ Nicole doesn’t abuse the fact that she has diabetes often though. ‘When I’m late for my study group I fess up and say I overslept. But I could use the diabetes over and over.’
Nicole is doing much better now. Her mentor has arranged for an extra year of student grant for her and she only has one more exam to resit. She also has her sugar levels under control better. ‘I go to a gym now, where they keep a close eye on my sugar levels. That makes it easier for me to estimate.’ She still worries sometimes. ‘Now that depressed feeling has subsided, the competitive spirit is returning.’
She can’t envisage the future yet. ‘Graduating isn’t so much the problem, it’s what comes after, that’s still a big question mark. I would love to discover a cure for diabetes and win the Nobel Prize with that: then I will have killed two birds with one stone.’