Saturday, August 28, 2010
Confession: I hated science class when I was in elementary school. Elementary school science for me was mostly all physical sciences (earth science sort of thing). I imagine that this is normal, so that students have something hands on to do, but for me, it was incredibly boring. My favorite classes were always English and music. I actually remember telling my science teacher that I was never going to be a scientist.
My first year in middle school, I had a really great science teacher. He was a big man of Italian descent who had a rather long mustache that he would chew on when thinking. Early in the year, stuff changed for me in science class, I think that he realized that I wasn't being challenged, and suddenly, things got fun. I remember him giving the class assignments, and then tweaking mine. I remember him getting me to do all of the demos. I also remember him pulling me out of home ec class to set up the experiments for the higher level classes. I got the impression that his wife was a scientist too, I think a geologist, because through her he got these really cool slides of Mt. St. Helen's erupting and some moon rocks. He really encouraged me. In fact, it was him that convinced me to quit the all-city choir and go to 'Saturday Science Academy'.
Then, when I moved to 8th grade, they had sectioned all the gifted kids off together in preparation for high school. (How it worked in my district, was that after testing, if you passed the 'gifted test', you got to go to a different school for one day a week. This other school was mostly cool. It was here that I learned classics and video editing and photography development, and higher maths.) The 8th grade science teacher was awful. She thought that she was great, but there was just something about her that didn't mesh with me.
Then I ended up in high school. If you were on the AP track, you had Biology 1 your freshman year. That's where I really embraced science. The teacher was awesome. Mr. Mateka or 'Teak' as we would call him. He was who taught me that science was fun. I got to do all sorts of ridiculous things in that class. He was awesome. It was him that made me decide I wanted to be a biology teacher.
Then I went to college. I went to a SLAC. My family didn't have the money for me to go to college. And, to put a finer point on it, didn't actually want me to go. They made it as difficult as they could for me to go. The SLAC was my savior. I had gotten a free ride scholarship. I started out as a Biology Ed major. I loved my science classes. I was in love with my chemistry classes. Environmental Toxicology was the hardest class I have ever taken, but it was awesome. I'd spend Saturday's in the micro lab.
I didn't start my Ed classes until my 3rd year. After 3 weeks, I dropped the Ed part of my major. I couldn't get behind a department that would allow people to be science teachers if they were getting D's in science classes. So then I changed my major to just straight Biology, but I picked up a second major in Environmental Studies. At this point, I had so many math and psychology classes, I was seriously thinking about becoming a quad major. I graduated. I was a 5 year student. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I still kind of wanted to be a teacher. So during my 5th year I stared applying to grad schools. I applied to 3. I got in all of them.
One of them was a journalism program. I had always loved writing, but I found science writing to be seriously awful. So the summer between graduating college and ending up at the major university for my PhD I did classes in Advertising and International Journalism and Editing and the like. What I came back with was that I wrote like a scientist, and as such, wouldn't succeed as a science journalist. So I took a hiatus, and figured it was a good thing to do while I was working on my PhD.
I took a long time to get my degree. Part of this was because the first 2 years I worked on a project that had no hope of working, so I had to start over again. Then, when I finally did get a project that would eventually work, it was all based upon things that would take forever (~2 months for an experiment, assuming everything worked, not including making it). So, I took 8 years to get my degree. I have to believe that some of that is not due to me not working hard or long enough. I worked long and hard hours. I worked for 6 months at one point without a day off. I read, I wrote, I did science. And then, after everyone had agreed that I had done enough, I graduated.
I did a post-doc. It was something similar to what I did as a grad student, with a boss that could have been the anti-jackass. However, because I was still in a University setting, I still kind of felt like I was in some sort of cocoon. I loved my post-doc. I loved the science and the people, but that cocoon wasn't right, which is how I ended up in biotech now.
What do I do? Well, I get to do science at the bench. When asked, I say I'm a scientist. I was trained as a virologist. When pressed for specifics by someone who's not a scientist, I've decided that I'm going to say that I am a 'Cell Photographer".
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