Sunday, July 27, 2008


My first degree was essentially a communications degree with an emphasis in public relations. I parlayed this degree into my first job, a fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It was fun and at the end of the day, it was nice to know that I helped someone. Unfortunately, once I learned how to do the job, I got bored...really, really bored. I considered finding a new job, but I figured it would end the same way. I needed to change career fields, not just jobs. This lead to two important realizations about myself:

1. I find many topics interesting, so no matter what I majored in, I probably would have thought it was the right career for me until I took a job in that field.
2. No matter how much I didn't want to admit it before, I was better at analytical subjects like math and science.

Ultimately, I decided that a career in science or health care was exactly what I needed. Why? Let's revisit numbers 1 and 2 from above.
Like I stated above, I like to learn and I find many things interesting, but I couldn't very well go back to school, major in something new, enjoy it while learning about it and then find out again that the actual application of the new degree was boring. I needed the job itself to require or consist of learning so that I could avoid the boredom. So, I thought about what careers would require constant learning while allowing me to analyze the crap out of things. The answer was science.

Now for the transition.
I went back to school and started taking prerequisites for graduate school. Unfortunately, this required moving back in with my parents for a year so that I could take more classes at a time and get into graduate school faster. This was difficult for me, but not because of my parents. They were pretty excited about it, but it embarrassed me terribly. I swore to myself and my parents to never, no matter what, move back home after I went to college.
Everyone in my classes were a couple of years younger than me and I wasted a lot of time and energy feeling like a loser because of this. Since I started school early, I was accustomed to being the youngest. Now, I felt like a loser that lived with their parents who was behind. Not a feeling I relished.
When I finally started graduate school, things didn't exactly change. I did not actually obtain a degree in science. I only took the prerequisites and even though I made good grades in those required courses, my learning curve at the beginning of graduate school was steep as hell. Right away I enjoyed two more new experiences: studying and near-failing. I scored the second lowest grade on my first graduate school exam. Studying and making low There were even rumors that faculty thought I wouldn't make it, but I did.

In the end, it only took that fist semester to get up to speed. Thank goodness. Later, I passed my candidacy exam unconditionally and a committee member informed me that it was the best oral exam he had ever witnessed. Not too bad for a communications major with no science degree that nearly failed out of graduate school in semester one.

Despite how well everything turned out, I still view this as a difficult transitional time in my life and lately I find myself thinking about it because I am nearing the end of my graduate career and moving to a new lab that studies microbes, but not in the same way graduate school lab (GSL) studies them. Post-doc lab is heavy on the biochemistry and structure while GSL is into gene regulation. I look forward to learning new techniques and I know that when it is over I will be an extremely well-rounded microbiologist, but I am a little intimidated by all the new equipment.

I think it is going to be fine. My past experience tells me so.


alicepawley said...

Rock on, microbiologst xx. Show those science-degree-believers what a comm major can do. (Isn't it odd how your undergrad degree seems to define you in stronger ways to others than your grad work?) And so glad you got past that hard first semester. Well done!

microbiologist xx said...

Yesss! Someone got the title reference.
The best part is, that my communications degree didn't turn out to be a waste of time. It's helped tremendously with giving talks and writing.
Thanks for stopping by!