This past week I spoke to a group of high school students for their career day about being a scientist and about what grad school entails. As I prepared my slides I all but high fived myself for how hilarious and cool these kids were going to think I was. I relished the fact that I was going to shatter the illusion that scientists are lab coat-wearing glasses-pushers while simultaneously inspiring a new generation of researchers. About 10 minutes into my presentation several things occurred to me concurrently—
1. The majority of teenagers are angst-filled jerks (myself included at that age),
2. I am officially old (as measured by the number of times I wanted to shake my finger at talking students), and
3. I could light myself on fire and they would not care about anything I’m saying.
Despite this humbling fall from grace it got me thinking about what I would’ve taken away from a presentation about being a scientist at 15 years old and whether it would’ve altered my twisty road to graduate school.
I locked on to science early on in high school and I was immediately placed into the good-at-science-go-to-med-school group. Admittedly I drank the Kool-aid and set a course for a life as a physician. It wasn’t until late in college when I was doing research in an effort to pad my med school resume while trying to write an essay about why I wanted to be a doctor that I realized how badly I didn’t want to be a medical doctor. I remember being upset that we hadn’t really been exposed to graduate school (or pharmacy, dentistry, optometry, etc…) as viable alternatives. All my professors had gone to graduate school yet they were all herding us through our pre-med prerequisites. Were they all traumatized? Are they simply too tired? I’m still at a loss to explain it.
In any case my own story flashed through my head while I was practically tap dancing to try and keep a room full of sullen teenagers awake. Then it dawned on me, if there was even one kiddo in that group that can use what I told them to make an informed decision later in life I will consider it an afternoon well spent. And although I cringe to think of it, somewhere in the sea of those awkward Team Edward-loving students are the scientists and doctors of tomorrow…take heart, college has a way of slapping some priorities into us. Have a great week!