Personal Essay Veterinary Microbial Genetics
Once in a while I am approached by past research associates who heard that I "got out," as several of them put it, and who want to know how I handled the switch. Some of them have no idea that people with science backgrounds have options other than research and teaching, and many are discouraged by the thought that they would have to leave their beloved science in other to engage in those activities. Several of them have called me from home to ask these questions, for fear of being overheard at the laboratory.
The first thing I tell them is that there is far more to science than the "bench." I myself entered the science field as an undergraduate, when I chose to study veterinary microbial genetics. I worked in the laboratory of Dr. William Sischo, an epidemiologist who specialized in number-crunching but who needed technical assistance with field sampling and laboratory work to generate the data. Dr. Sischo instilled in me a strong desire to learn about and experiment in genetics. I was fascinated by the many ways genetics can be used to help understand how or why certain biological functions occur, and I wondered how I could use my knowledge of genetics to benefit society.
After I obtained my bachelor of science degree, I went on to graduate school earning a master of science degree part-time while working full-time jobs in a couple of well-establish research institutions. I enjoyed both graduate school and working in the laboratory. I also learned the "correct" career path-an academic position at a respectable research university-was what we were supposed to want out of life. More specifically, academic laboratories were acceptable, but working in industry, even to do research, was generally looked upon as "selling out." I believe this attitude has relaxed somewhat since then, since grants and jobs have become harder to secure and tenured positions lack the security they once possessed.
It was during my graduate studies that I began to question my goals and the assumptions they were based on. I was becoming increasingly unhappy with the direction my career was heading, and I began to question my abilities and motivation. Finally, when I heard myself mutter out loud "I don't want to do bench work forever," I sat up and took notice. I decided that in spite of my training, and even though I still loved science, research was not right...