Finals season is here, and instead of packing into Rush Rhees, we will be cramming for tomorrow’s test in our kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms. 

This has been a long year, and the fall semester left us in its dust. I do not know a student, professor, or member of our community that is not exhausted right now. The stress that’s integrated itself into our university and different environments don’t exactly provide the best conditions as we trek into our exams. 

With the looming storm about to break on our metaphorical beach, I would like to share a tradition that I have started with myself, that might help you: I watch “The Martian” before finals. 

This tradition did not truly begin until last semester, but the idea was born during my first semester in CHM 137. On the first CHM 137 exam — my very first collegiate exam — there was a question about “The Martian.” It used the concept from the scene where Matt Damon creates the water and asked us how much water Matt Damon could make. I was too nervous and stressed out at the time to truly appreciate this question. 

I love mechanical engineering. I would not be majoring in engineering if I did not have a burning passion and love for it. Despite this, it can be hard to remember why you chose to be a mechanical engineer when you’re in the library, eyes dry and mentally exhausted, as you try to comprehend yet another difficult problem set. 

The passion is still there, but it’s the quiet and mundane moments that are the toughest to chew through. One of the greatest challenges is when you feel lost — you’ll eventually understand the concepts and math, but it doesn’t always come in the next five minutes. It might click in the next hour, or even the next four. You will get to the top of the mountain, but the climb can be rigorous and taxing. 

You need to remember why you push yourself, why you work hard, and why the effort is worth it. The best remedy I have found is returning to the wonders of science, the special feeling you got as a child when you watched “The Magic School Bus,” when your teacher had a special demonstration, or you built your lego set. Curiosity and imagination can be lost after a three-hour textbook session, but you can find them again with the help of a good film. 

I use “The Martian” as my very own Rocky pump-up before getting into the nitty-gritty of finals. “The Martian” brings out my imagination and curiosity and excites me. I get inspired to do the math, write out the equations, explore the concepts, and push towards the end of my finals. I want to explore and create, just like in “The Martian.”

It does help that the cast of “The Martian” is amazing, with Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, and Donald Glover as just a small part of this star-studded crew. The comedy is right up my alley, and Matt Damon is a good choice for Mark Watney’s charisma. I love the film on its own merits, besides it serving as a spiritual shot of espresso for STEM majors. 

By the time I’m done watching, I am ready to go to work. I imagine myself doing the math to grow potatoes on Mars. Because one day, I might be the one doing the math to go to Mars. Instead of frowning through my calculations, it helps mentally to smile through my finals. If it helps, add your own pizzazz to the questions. Think about a question like you’re doing the calculations for a rocket, creating a communications system, or building a generator. 

Not everyone may find watching “The Martian” inspirational, but find your version of “The Martian.” It can be hard to envision the applications of your studies. Right now your head is in your books, and we can drown in the pages. Your dreams are your lifeboat, and certain forms of media can remind us that we’re not floundering for nothing. 

What are your dreams? Do you want to be a writer? An astronaut? A doctor? You might not even know yet, or it might not be clear, but what inspired you to get to this point? Was it a book, a family member, a movie, a song? 

It can be hard to pull ourselves out of the quicksand of our notes and textbooks. But all of this hard work will lead to your aspirations. I might be doing derivations now, but I can be the one applying them and creating the future of aerospace later. Remind yourself what you strive for. Remember why you love your studies. Passion is one of the best motivators, and we need to remind ourselves of our passions a little more than usual right now. 

This finals season, I will enter with a smile on my face, and make them fear my botany powers. Find your botany powers.

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