Archive for August, 2011

M.D. or Ph.D. — A degree by another name is still DOCTOR

Going to medical school is a dream of many young people.  Sometimes parents are  pushing us to strive to go on to be “the family physician.”  Sometimes we think that doctors have all of the glory and we are driven by the thought of  prestige.    Sometimes there is an internal drive to help mankind.  For me it was the last, I wanted to make a difference in the world by stopping suffering, making people well.  I took all the classes, studied really hard, forgot about a social life, took extra curricular activities seriously, and built up a fantastic resume to apply to medical school.  I took all the exams, did all the research and applied to the best schools by the first semester of my senior year in college.   I even got early acceptance into my #1 choice!   I always knew I wanted to be a doctor — and my family’s first through professional school.  Sounds like a dream. Sounds like things went smoothly for me, right?  Well up that point they did, then Whamo!

On my way through college I had to work several campus jobs to help pay for my education.  It was my job as a lab assistant for the developmental biology professor that would change everything.  I kept sea urchins, frogs, and chicks alive and had to aid in their experimental demise.  But the day that same professor told me that I had to grow plants from seeds, I was mortified.  I mean really, I did not have any plants in my dorm, my mom used to say she “killed silks,” and I was sure I would have the same genetic tendency to present a death sentence to these organisms.  I begged for curriculum changes so that I would not have to attempt to grow these plants.   To no avail, that Friday I was sent to the greenhouse with a few packs of seeds and directions on how to fill pots; hopefully I would get something to grow in 7 to 10 days.  Upon my arrival to the greenhouse, my fear turned into horror.  I arrived to a mess and in order for me to accomplish anything I had to clean it up (side note here:  I am impulsive about things being clean!).  I found the broom and began my daunting task.  Organization was not something my predecessor knew, and in between sweeping and washing surfaces, I needed to find ways to make “sense” out of the piles of junk.  About 3 days later, my boss walked up into the greenhouse and he found a sparkling area that was organized down to the labels on the drawers.  He stood there and asked where the magic potion was that created such a miracle.  My smile grew and he knew his “anal lab tech” made this magic, but my drive for cleanliness was not what drove me.  I enjoyed this mess, it was its own education surrounded by dirt and mayhem. 

Once I learned how to set up pots and plant seeds I thought my torture was finished.  To my dismay, I did not realize I had to water these dumb things…everyday!  Yikes.  After my first attempt to grow plants was a disaster, I tried it again.  Planting was easier this time around and I set up a watering schedule that worked.  In 10 days I had the most beautiful little organisms looking upon me.   I was ecstatic and managed to wrangle up everyone I could to see my marvels.  Most people were polite and laughed with me (or was it at me?) enjoying the daily changes.  I was so taken by the wonders of life that I would go up to the greenhouse to study, to be alone, or even to read a good book.  My boyfriend  said I was going to turn into a plant due to all the time I “wasted” there…he was sort of correct…but that comes soon.

I got the ever-so-important envelope in the mail — the one telling me “You are accepted intoMedical School,” or the one stating “we are so sorry to inform you….”  I took the envelope to my greenhouse, and I opened it.  I read it slowly and I started to cry.   I called my mom and dad, told them the good news, and they started to cry.  I called my grandma, she was crying.  I told my boyfriend, he was happy for me (no crying…but he was a boy!).  My gal pals were crying for me.  Everyone was crying happy tears, but my tears would not stop. 

I went to the greenhouse a lot the next few days.  I re-read my letters  several times and would start crying all over.  What was wrong with me?   After about 2 weeks of spending even more time in the greenhouse alone I realized I was crying because I was not sure I really wanted to go to medical school.  How could I think this now?  I was getting ready to graduate and I began doubting my career path.  How was I going to tell my mom and dad?   I needed a plan.  I needed to be able to answer the question, “What are you going to do instead, dear?”  But that was a very good question…what was I going to do.  I began to think about alternative careers with a biology degree and what else did “life science” have to offer me.  Several more days passed and it came to me.  I wanted to go to graduate school for plants.  YUP you read that right, plants! 

I mustered up the courage to call my parents and tell them that I had my life all figured out.  My father cried, not happy tears this time, and my mother yelled, “WHAT the hell do you know about plants?  Have you ever taken a plant course?  Botany?  That is a dead science?  Why plants?”  These were interesting questions…I knew nothing about plants since I never took a plant course.  I wasn’t really sure what botany was all about; I just knew that I was amazed at plant development and felt like I needed to try that direction. 

Applications to graduate school are not that different from medical school applications.  They are full of essays, questions about why you want to attend, and of course you still need those “credentials.”  At the time I put my applications together they were very close to being past due.  I rushed, got them in and to my parents’ dismay, got in to graduate school.  You see, they told me they were not ok with my last minute switch but if I got in, tried it for a year and hated it, I would re-apply to medical school.  I got in, went through my first few years, loved it and finished my PhD.  Over the years my parents came to go from acceptance to appreciation for my education choices.  At my PhD graduation, my mom was full of happy tears again…because she still could say, “look at my daughter, the Doctor in the family!”  Now she likes to tell people that I went to school for 23 years and that she is so proud of me.  My father is equally proud; his statement is more of the lines “this is my daughter the PhD.” 

The moral of this story is to know that just because you think you know what you want to do in life, don’t let your heart and head disagree with what is right for you.  You need to learn what truly excites you and go with that avenue of what ever you do.  Your life is short and you spend most of your life at work.  You should enjoy it and if you do, success comes much easier.  Your parents are a strong influence, and should be,  but the ultimate choice is yours.