Explore all the possibilities.

I took five years off after graduating college. Well, that is a misleading statement; it wasn't like I was doing anything fun or wild or irresponsible. I worked for half that time as a research assistant, trying to decide if I liked it enough to pursue a PhD or MD; and the other half I spent working in the family business.

Interestingly enough, it wasn't my time in science that convinced me that I wanted to be a scientist; it was my time away from it. I actually missed it. And so even though I had gotten out, I had made my escape… I found myself begging graduate schools to "please take me back!" At first, when they did, I felt smug: I was older and wiser then my classmates and therefore more confident (arrogant?). But as the years have passed I have begun to wonder… what if I hadn't come back? And, did I ever really leave? Did I ever really allow myself the possibility of pursuing a different path?

The honest answer is… no. Ever since I was five and I declared to my uncle that I was going to find a cure for cancer, I have been working towards that goal. It sounds cliché, but it is the truth. My path was always laid out in front of me, and even when I supposedly "took time" to "find myself", all I really did was find a detour that led me straight back to where I'd started… just a few years behind.

Now I find myself faced with a new fork in the road. I am looking for tenure track faculty positions, yes, but I am looking at places that are not research institutions. I am looking at places where my primary responsibility is not to do research, but to teach. GASP! To many of my classmates and colleagues- and, even more accurately (ironically enough), to many of my own teachers- this might seem like I am settling. That I am not realizing my full potential. That I am giving up. But, given the chance to find my own path before and not taking it, I realize now that there are still so many forks in the road, and I have to go in the direction that will lead to my own sense of fulfillment.

So I continue to move forward. I like what I am doing, I do. But… I still wonder. What if I had started college as an "undecided"? Where would I be today? And I realize that as much as I want to train good scientists, the one thing I really hope to teach all my students is… to explore all the possibilities.


Lisa said...

I always think that if I impact just ONE student in my career....If I reach one kid the way MY third grade teacher reached me.....then my god I've lived life well.
You will awaken in some student a love of learning and science. You will impact a life. You will teach them to explore possibilities....It's a powerful thing that is sometimes forgotten in the frustration of labs and protocols but you will make a difference.