We are getting to the time of the year when our fourth year students are starting to panic. Life as an undergraduate is going to end soon and the questions of “what are you going to do when you are done” have already begun. I know this because I was once there and the number of conversations I have had the past week are about future plans coming from the future graduate. Sure, most students have plans but the continuation of those plans require being granted an interview followed by the dreaded wait period for acceptance or not into the dream program. Although I would love all of my students to get into their dream program after the first try, it just isn’t reality. So a number of students every year need to have plan B, ….and C and.. you know, back-ups.
I think about my path to becoming a faculty member and it certainly wasn’t straight nor was it even what I expected as a career. Many students have asked me how I got to where I am and I’ve been honest, it was stressful, it was serendipitous and it was a lot of hard work. Leading up to now, I washed dishes, I cleaned tables, I asked if patrons wanted cheese on their garlic bread, I took hard courses that hurt my head, I took courses that I thought would be easier and they weren’t….and I studied a lot. There were very many times when what I was doing was not what I wanted to be doing but what I needed to do. I needed to earn money to pay for tuition, I needed to learn more than just science (even though that was all I wanted to learn), and I needed to do the tough jobs on the way to the jobs I really wanted to do. The career path isn’t usually straight anymore for anyone. It’s certainly disconcerting and there is a level of faith that everything is going to work out, but please don’t sit and do nothing while you wait for what you want to do. If you have never had a job, get one. If you need to do research to learn and appreciate research, do it. If you have to work late with little to no thanks, you know you did a good job. Be thorough, be responsible, be a worker. Some day, that will all pay off. To this day, I am thankful I worked picking tomatoes for a summer and that I was cleaning tables when all of my friends were going to the movies on Friday nights. It taught me so much and I am certain I wouldn’t be nearly as good at my current job had I not gone through those other experiences.
So dear graduate, you too will get to a place of thankfulness and reflection on these last fleeting months of the school year. And you will miss these days of not knowing the future. If you are not given an interview it will be a terrible heartache but perhaps some day you will look back and say that you are glad things worked out the way they did. If you do get an interview, don’t rub it in to others who haven’t. It isn’t kind and you could very easily have been in the opposite situation. Best wishes to you all.