I’m currently a second-year graduate student at the University of Kansas Medical Center hoping to earn my PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. Every day I look at the amazing scientists around me, I play around in the lab, and I wonder how did I get here?? Had you asked me 10 or even 5 years ago what I’d be doing now, science was one of the farthest things from my answer.
I went to high school in a tiny town in northwest Kansas (seriously one stop light, closest Walmart was over an hour away). My grandpa used to say it was the edge of the Earth, and back then, it really felt like it was. The world beyond that small town didn’t seem like it existed. What I saw there is what I thought the rest of the world was like. Most people leave and come back, and I figured I would too. Everyone in town was either a teacher or a farmer, and I thought I was probably more of a teacher than a farmer. So I decided to go to Wichita State University to get my degree in English/Literature and Secondary Education so I could teach high school English.
It took me English 101, English 102, and World Lit to decide that English was not for me. I didn’t like reading for the sake of reading. I wanted to read so I could learn. I didn’t feel challenged. And I felt like I wasn’t contributing to society. I took a bunch of career aptitude tests; all of them told me that I should consider science or medicine. One even gave a list of careers to avoid, and the top career on that list was English teacher.
I decided to take biology and chemistry. I ended up loving them both. They were challenging, I was learning something new every day, and I was actually doing really well. I still hadn’t been exposed to a ton of careers, but I knew that medicine involved science. I figured I’d try being pre-med. I worked in the emergency room, I took the MCAT, and I even filled out the application a couple times, but I always felt like something was missing.
Luckily, about that time, I enrolled in a biochemistry teaching lab. We got to design our own project, write a proposal, actually carry out our experiments, and then present them at our own little conference (the project my partner and I designed even ended up working!). Experiencing the whole research process from beginning to end was exhilarating, and it was exactly what I had been missing. I had never considered research because it was something I hadn't really been exposed to previously, but I started working in the lab right after the class ended. And I've spent every day since completely infatuated with science and research.
So that’s how I got here! My journey to this point was long and twisty. There were times when the people around me guided me to take turns I'd never considered. And because of the path I took to get to research and science, I know first-hand that science isn't accessible to everyone, and I want to change that. I'd like to be a faculty member at a university where I can mentor undergraduate students who might be struggling with what career path to choose. And I want to make sure that high school students in poorer and rural districts have the exposure to science that might help their journeys not be as long and twisty as mine.