My name is Sonya Helen Herbach and I have recently presented a paper on Elizabeth of Austria at an international conference in Madrid, Spain titled, “Kings and Queens 6: In the Shadow of the Throne.” I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have participated in the conference as I am still an undergraduate and the trip was partially supported by a travel grant through the College of Arts and Sciences.
The entire experience was very enjoyable from working on the paper with my adviser, to traveling, and ensuring everything was together for the conference. Even though it was an international conference, it was not terribly different from presenting the same paper at the UAlbany Undergraduate Research Conference in Spring 2017. Still, as the youngest presenter I was a bit nervous. However, everyone was so kind, amazing, and knowledgeable that it was a positive learning experience. I was also very thankful to have my family with me while at the conference to offer their support and guidance.
Nevertheless, it has been a long road to get to where I am now, and to find a field in which I am both good at the work, and enjoy it. Currently, I focus on European history, specifically the history of women, and how psychology can be applied in order to understand historical figures better.
Since childhood I was diagnosed with type one diabetes. My teenage years were complicated due to a combination of problems with depression, anxiety, and personal loss. After just over half a year of struggling through my freshman year at Albany High, my parents and I were able to find a school which allowed me to choose my own hours, classes, and workload. Even still, I felt that I needed to be learning more and that I needed more of a challenge than I was getting. So the school enrolled me at HVCC, where I would be able to work on not only my GED but also get an Associate Degree at the same time as I would have graduated from Albany High. Therefore, I began UAlbany as a junior when my peers were graduating from high school.
Due to my history of health issues growing up, I developed a love of reading, especially history. My UAlbany professors found that my research skills were good and I enjoyed giving presentations which pointed me in the direction of becoming a college level teacher in history. Through my dedication in my field, I have formed solid relationships with my professors, which has allowed me to do much of my class work from home and has also allowed me to sign up for independent studies to dive deeper into my areas of interest. This has eased the stress on me because unfortunately, many health related incidents happened to me in the last two years and I have had to rise to the challenge. In Spring 2016, I began to get infections from my insulin sites, and in Fall 2016 I fell which resulted in a brain injury that is still an everyday problem for me now. In addition to this, I have just had another medical problem, a kidney infection which evolved into sepsis and water around my lungs.
With my professors’ support and encouragement, I have been able to continue working towards my goal of a Ph.D. in European History, and though I worry that there may be more obstacles, it seems like if I just keep going, I’ll get there eventually. If there is one thing that I can suggest to others if they are having trouble with their health, family, or mental well-being it is to be honest about your situation with those you love and trust and to your professors. Communication, planning ahead, maintaining a positive attitude and being engaged are critical in managing my health, while working towards my goals. For instance, I am now working with my adviser towards a new international conference which will be held in England, with a deadline in a couple of days!
Thank you very much for the attention you gave to my story, and I wish you a nice Holiday Season.
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