I was living at home applying for jobs and feeling adrift. Finally getting a job offer turned things around for me because I knew when it came that I had been all wrong about what I thought wanted to do. The offer was for a paid field research assistantship (sadly a rare find) studying vervet monkeys in South Africa for six months. This would have meant half a year of extremely limited contact with friends and family and really anyone beyond the ~5-10 people at the field site. This opportunity forced me to face the facts that I am painfully extroverted and someone who hates camping. And those traits among others meant there was never going to be great a fit for me if I wanted to continue studying animal behavior.
Having faced this revelation about not actually knowing what I wanted, I moved back to my college town with one of my best friends from college. Neither of us had jobs, but we had a little bit of savings, and her dad was willing to co-sign our lease. I was in that apartment sleeping on the floor when I got an unexpected call asking if I was still interested in a job I had applied to months before but had been turned down for. With that call I suddenly became a full-time laboratory instructor for Intro to Molecular Biology. Turns out that teaching molecular biology is a great way to learn and eventually love molecular biology. The pay and benefits were crap, but I enjoyed the work and our instructional team quickly became a work family.
But eventually came time to reconcile that that I wasn’t going to be happy making that job my career, so it was time to reapply to grad school with better information and passion for a new area of research. Next round of applications I did manage to get at least one interview, but I wasn’t admitted. The feedback I received was that I had great teaching experience but no true research experience relating to any of the projects I was proposing. So, I went through another cycle of rejections, but I had at least gathered valuable guidance on what my application was still missing.
Next Friday, I’ll wrap up the whirl wind of my last job before grad school and how the sweet combination of serendipity and hard work resulted in me starting my PhD at age 28.