You know that saying “I’m at a crossroads in my life”? You know the one, it’s usually on a picture mounted on a factory-white painted wall featuring a forking dirt path with corn on either side with a silhouetted, ambiguously aged female figure in an A-line dress, obviously contemplating which dusty corn path will send her back to Kansas. Well, I half identify with that statement at the moment. Half is the keyword: I recognize that my life is about to change in a major way. But, rather than having two branching paths to follow, I feel like I have come upon a brick wall (on a dirt road littered with broken test tubes and loose-leaf textbooks and the occasional wine bottle or three).
Let me introduce myself in the most generic way possible! I got a lot of practice at this over the last few days at the university’s career fair: Hello! My name is Allison Morgan and I’m a chemistry major with a research background in inorganic chemistry! What I don’t say, but am dying to when the recruiter is asking me questions:
I don’t care what your company does! I don’t really want to work in a chemistry lab! If you wanted computer scientists, why did you come to the science career fair when the engineering career fair was yesterday? Why are you telling me I need a Ph.D. to clean glassware? No, I am not a biochemist! Yes, I have gone to a lot of colleges, thanks for noticing! No, I don’t want your thing that I can stick to the back of my phone that I can peel off to wipe my screen off with that will leave residue all over everything I’ve ever owned, but out of the four pieces of paper you just handed me, this screen cleaner is the only thing with your website on it! No, I don’t want to sell things to people, again, why are you at the science career fair? My face hurts from smiling at you and this un-breaking eye contact is making everyone involved uncomfortable so can we stop pretending that this is how normal conversations happen? Why are the recruiters wearing jeans while I’m in high heels and dress pants???
Fun fact that not many people (with the exception of everyone who has talked to me for more than five minutes) know: I was originally a marine biology major. What even less people know about me: I have never felt passion for anything like I do for the ocean, and never will feel that sort of passion again in my life. I bought my first oceanography textbook when I was in middle school at Half Priced Books and read it cover to cover and even highlighted in it and took notes. I have every word to Blue Planet: Deep Ocean memorized (this is always my fun fact about myself that I whip out on the first day of class). I once bought a book on Humpback whales and wrote an essay on them back when our family computer still had dial up and my feet didn’t touch the floor when I was sitting in my dad’s office chair. I have a jellyfish hanging from the rear view mirror in my car that I’ve had longer than I’ve had the car itself, and I sleep with a stuffed squid every night named Queequeg. I’ve gone to the same aquarium every year since I was in elementary school and I still look forwards to it like a little kid looking towards Christmas. I ask to go to the aquarium in my hometown for nearly every birthday and I can practically give a tour myself. I’ve fed piranhas. I am a font of marine biology knowledge, especially about jellyfish. Furthermore, I wear a jellyfish pendant around my neck because it’s my personal reminder to keep going and that everything will be okay. I did my 10th grade science project on bioluminescence and recreated the phenomenon in a lab with chemicals, and in my organic chemistry class, my instructor demonstrated the exact reaction I had done in 10th grade, and was able to recite the chemicals in the reaction, and got to enjoy the shock on his face. I get excited when I see the aquarium at the local Cheddar’s and always don’t mind waiting for a table because I get to press my face against it.
So…in other words, I love marine biology. I knew since sixth grade that I wanted to be a marine biologist. I never waffled in this decision, and I applied to the top eight marine biology colleges out of high school, and was accepted to seven of them (sorry I wasn’t related to anyone on the board of regents, Stanford). I went to my first choice college (yeah, that’s right Stanford, you weren’t my first choice either).
And then, due to a multitude of reasons beyond my control, I transferred to Texas. I became a chemistry major. I put dreams on the back burner in order to focus on college and graduation. I put my nose to the books and worked hard and now have a pretty darn impressive resume to my name.
But why? Why would I work so hard as a chemist when I wanted to be a marine biologist? Well, here’s the key, when transferring to my current college, I was told these exact words: “while chemistry might not be marine biology, in the end this degree will still get you to where you want to be”.
Now two things: 1. I believed this. I honestly believed that they were telling the truth and that I wasn’t just more money to add to their collection. I legitimately believed that upon graduating with a degree in chemistry, I could apply for marine biology jobs and have a shot at them. I thought that they were taking into consideration what I wanted and wanted to help me get there. 2. I should have done more research before picking a college, but I was stressed, confused, and felt lost, and when I had an inside into this college and my best friends went there, it seemed like a win. It should have sounded fishy to me that I could become a marine biologist when my major didn’t make me take even a single biology course. I let myself down just as much as they did.
Because when I went in for my final advising appointment before graduation, I told them what I wanted to do. And she looked at me blankly, and said “I don’t know how to get you there. I know someone who is working to recycle waste water. Close enough?”
I feel let down. I let myself down because I didn’t try hard enough and didn’t do enough research. I feel like all the people who told me I could do this led me on. I feel completely lost and alone and no one’s help is useful to me because it’s all a symphony of “follow you heart/dreams/insert inspirational body part here” with no actual help as to how to get there.
The same people that encouraged me not to be a marine biologist because they make no money are the same people who are now telling me to go for it because my happiness is worth more than money. They’re the people telling me to go to grad school for marine biology when I have absolutely nothing in my resume that qualifies me for such a thing.
I’m confused, lost, and have no one to turn to. Sadly, my passion doesn’t get me job interviews. I can tell the company until I’m blue in the face that I love jellyfish more than anything in the world and I routinely work the hydrozoans into conversation and that you don’t understand this ismyDREAM but that doesn’t matter when I don’t know how a hatchery works or what makes marine snow a viable caloric intake to large bottom dwelling fish.
There’s no hard hitting quote to end this one. I may be a strong writer, but at the moment I feel like a small girl who is watching her dreams crumble before her eyes in real time. And, for lack of a more eloquent term, it really sucks.