This piece for Quest’s Meet the Alumni series features Florence Pauline Basubas, an M’19 from the Philippines, who is currently in Seoul. Hear about her personal projects, the challenges of being a planner, Minerva reflections, and the value in doing small things.
Post-Minerva Gap Year
Erin Paglione: Where are you now geographically, and what have you been doing since graduation?
Florence Pauline Basubas: I am currently in Seoul. I haven’t been doing cool things like all of my other classmates, and that’s been really hard because after graduation, I felt like everyone was doing cool things or trying to do cool things. I was having full-blown anxiety that I might not be able to do cool things like my fellow classmates were doing after graduation.
I initially planned to go to grad school, and I actually got into some grad schools, but when I was there, I realized that I wasn’t ready for it. My work style is usually for me to work really hard for a period of time, and then take a year off; just take a break to rejuvenate. And I realized I needed that. I went to grad school for about a week and then I was just back home with my family most of the time. There were a lot of personal things going on as well.
I’ve been working as a consultant for some healthcare startups, and also on some of my personal projects. Two years ago while I was in Minerva, I started two science organizations, and I haven’t really been able to work on them while I was in Minerva. It’s been great, because I have been able to really do the things I want to do, like structuring the organization and finding donors and a board of advisors, and then within the year we’re also going to be registering them as official non-governmental organizations in the Philippines. I’m really excited about that. And because they’re mentoring organizations a lot of the kids back home are really excited as well.
I’m supposed to be doing a gap year, relaxing, but I will probably be really busy. Right now I’m just enjoying the chill for a while. I’m working a little on those major projects, plus my consultant work and trying to rejuvenate myself, physically, emotionally, mentally, and psychologically after Minerva.
EP: The projects you started, are you doing those by yourself, or do you have partners?
FPB: The first one was a science mentoring organization to mentor high school students in their science projects, and also just to find a Filipino scientist as a mentor because when you’re a young kid, it’s nice to already have someone to guide you in a career path that you aspire to in the future. I thought about it, and then found some co-founders, who are working on it with me right now. And now it’s kind of nice because we are currently partnering with other science organizations in the Philippines.
The second one is a Philippines chapter of an international astronomy organization that is based in India. I’m kind of partnering and also under the main organization in India. I’m supervising the work in the Philippines. The main thing for this organization is to organize an astronomy camp for kids and youth who are interested in astronomy because as a young kid I really loved astronomy. I wanted to be an astronaut, but there was nothing going on with that back home. And now, a lot of people are doing that. The main event in astronomy on my island is our Astro Space Camp, so everyone is very excited about it and happy.
I think there’s really no way you could work alone in all of this. In everything there are definitely partners, co-founders, and people who are helping.
Being a Planner
EP: Are you planning to then go to grad school after this year?
FPB: I am. I deferred from the school I went to, but over the gap year, I actually applied to other schools, because I am not sure whether the one I went to is the right fit for me. It’s again trying to find which is the right fit for you. And then there are also some programs in some companies that I’m really interested in so I also applied to those. Right now, it’s just waiting for results and seeing what comes up. And seeing, which one might I want to go to, or which one might fit in all of the other things I’m working on right now because as I shared, I’m working on personal projects that might become something huge in the next few months.
I think I’m becoming more flexible. If you talked to me a year ago I probably would tell you exactly what I would be doing over the next few months. I used to be such a planner.
But now I think I’m learning to be more flexible and open with opportunities and also to be able to, for example, work on some things that I’m really passionate about. Grad school is within sight. Something I learned recently is you can have a long term plan and a short term plan. And grad school is still within the long term plan, but I’m not sure if I’m really going into it this year. I’m definitely going within the next year or two.
EP: What was one of the greatest learning experiences, highlights, or challenges that you’ve had in the past year and how has that shaped you?
FPB: The biggest challenge was, as I shared earlier, I’m a huge planner to the point I actually planned for my capstone right from my first year. In my last meeting with my academic advisor, I remember I gave her a document with a list of capstone ideas because I wanted to talk to her about it. And then she said, “We haven’t even written what capstone will be about yet! You can keep that, those are great, but you don’t want to think about that now.”
So I decided to map out my courses so that I’ll have enough time in my third and fourth year to work on my capstone because I really, really wanted to have a great capstone. Fast forward three years. I ended up realizing that sometimes, no matter how much you plan for things, the world is just too complex and there are tons of factors out of your control and things might not go the way you planned them and it’s okay. It’s not one straight path. There are probably multiple other paths that you could go through and they might be narrower, or more crooked than the one that you planned for but they will still get you somewhere, and they will get you to where you want to be as long as you just keep going.
I ended up doing a capstone, that was not in the original list. Because I didn’t know much about my topic, I had to work really hard and I ended up not being able to plan what to do right after graduation. So I told myself I want to get OPT and find a job like everyone else does. But then other people are telling me, “you can still apply for grad school and go to grad school.” I was having this peer pressure and FOMO. I was juggling applying to jobs and applying to grad school. I kind of got both, but if you try to juggle two things you’re not really able to get the best out of both, because you’re dividing your attention and time instead of focusing on one and getting the best out of one. I didn’t even really know which grad school I wanted to go to so I was just applying randomly to all of these places.
And then I realized that I had to drop it all and start over. And I had to be fine with that. I think that’s a really important lesson for me: it’s okay if plans don’t turn out the way you want them to. It’s okay to start over again. It’s okay to not be going through the exact path that you wanted to go through.
It’s okay if plans don’t turn out the way you want them to. It’s okay to start over again. It’s okay to not be going through the exact path that you wanted to go through.
EP: It’s interesting that you decided to go to Minerva then in the first place, in the first class.
FPB: When I was graduating high school I had this document, with every single school I wanted to apply to and every single program at the schools I wanted to go to;I mapped out the years and then I ended up not going to any of them. I ended up going somewhere else. It probably didn’t even exist when I made that list.
EP: Why did you decide to go to Minerva?
FPB: A lot of people usually say that the thing that attracted to Minerva is the traveling, the seven cities. But for me, it was actually the concentration, the research analysis column. When I was graduating high school everyone would ask, “What would you like to study?” I would say, “Isn’t there anything like biochemiphysics?” because I wanted to focus on research.
EP: Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Minerva?
FPB: There are a lot of nice times. It’s so difficult to pick one. Maybe graduation is my favorite. I mean it was not exactly the best graduation in the world. And it was not what we expected it to be. I was telling people “I don’t really feel like I graduated.” The first time I felt like I graduated was when there was a school-wide announcement and apparently the M’19s weren’t receiving the email anymore. It was like “What? We’re not receiving any email from school anymore? We graduated!” That was the first time I felt like I graduated.
Another favorite memory was when we were in Korea a little more than two years ago. I was working in a lab, and my lab seniors wanted to go hiking and if we reached 30 people there was going to be a discount. So I invited my classmates. And then it happened that my parents were also coming to Seoul to visit me. So, we ended up having my parents also joining the hike and some other Minerva classmates joining the hike and my lab seniors were also joining the hike. It was something that came up so spontaneously, but it was fun.
One thing I really liked about that experience was that my parents got to meet Usman, my first friend from Minerva, who is a Muslim from Pakistan. He just messaged me, out of the blue, and I was actually in Singapore at that time because my dad really wanted me to go to school in Singapore and I was doing summer classes in a university there. I was getting really sad because I really wanted to go to Minerva but I was stuck in Singapore, then he became my first friend in Minerva. That summer we just felt so connected, like we were best friends already although we haven’t even met yet.
During Ramadan, Muslims were supposed to be fasting, and I fasted with him. I come from a very conservative Christian family, but I said to my parents that “I have a Muslim friend and I’m fasting with him.” And my dad said, “What? You shouldn’t be friends with a Muslim. They’re terrorists.” In my country, Muslims are a minority, and there’s this availability bias because most of the people doing all these terrorist acts are Muslim. Unfortunately, at that time my parents had these hasty generalizations. But after meeting him on the hike, my parents said “Wow, that was your first friend? He’s so cool. We loved him.”
For the first time in my life, I just felt really happy to be able to travel and grateful as well because I come from a small island in the Philippines and everyone stays on the island.I was in that close-minded community. I was there all my life. But now I’m going out; a lot of my family is becoming more open-minded as well because they travel to visit me. Now my younger siblings and my younger cousins as well are actually applying to study abroad, and some students in my school are also applying to study abroad.
EP: Do you have any reflections on your time at Minerva?
FPB: The first time someone wanted to talk to me about Minerva I couldn’t really remember what all of the terms are anymore. I memorized the HCs, but I forgot what LOs are. I had to think for about an hour to remember that there are actually LOs.
And surprisingly, Minerva’s very popular here in Korea. So, I’ve had people recognizing me from the street for some reason. Two students actually approached me and asked if I was from Minerva, and I’ve had two heads of companies talk to me because they were interested in Minerva. And whenever they ask this question it’s very difficult for me to answer whether I like something or not because I will always say there are things that I like and that I don’t like. But if people ask me if I would go to Minerva again I would say I would because of the experience and, most importantly, the people that you meet in Minerva are just, so far, the best people in the world.
A reflection that I have found, and some of my friends and classmates have found, is that in Minerva we are so burdened to be doing all of these great things to be world leaders and change-makers. But then it’s actually okay if you’re not that way.
A motto I’ve had ever since my capstone is “big or small we can do something.”
I have some friends who tell me that I am not a change-maker, leader type of person. And if we don’t want to be and we’re just happy doing things we are passionate about I think that is totally okay. We might not be making a huge impact in the world. But we are probably going to be making a small difference in whatever field we’re in. No matter how small that difference is, it’s still a difference. And that is so contradictory from what I’m used to because I’m a scientist so the difference should always be significant.
A motto I’ve had ever since my capstone is “big or small we can do something.” I think that’s because it’s not easy for me to be confident. To most people, it seems like “you’re such a natural leader, you established these things, you organized events.” But it takes so much effort for me mentally and emotionally to prepare myself and to be confident to actually take lead, especially when I’m compelled to do so because usually either no one else is doing it or I’m just passionate about it.
A lot of times I usually just do my own small things. Whenever I gave suggestions to SXP, for example, they usually asked me, “Don’t you want to do something bigger, something with more impact?” And I would always say “No, I just wanted to do this and share it with my classmates. Because it brings us joy. It brings joy to these people we are helping.”
You don’t have to be doing big things. It’s kind of the norm now to be doing big things. We’re having all of these Forbes 30 under 30, whatever lists. Everything just becomes reduced to lists. But most people don’t actually make big achievements. You make so many small differences that add up to something bigger.