This is a long post I wrote while trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. I took a reflection on my education and career journey.
It’s not all that well written, and there is a lot that is going unsaid, but I wanted to share… because writing helps.
I’ve wanted to be a Doctorate since I was four. I wanted to be a veterinarian.
But I was ill-prepared. I was more in love with learning and the dream of helping animals than I was practically prepared for what it meant to be a professional.
I’m a first-generation college student. I fell into college with a lot of luck.
I didn’t think about college preparation or career preparation growing up. In high school, as a rising junior, I was accepted to Virginia’s Governor’s School for Agriculture. I spent a summer month as a pre-veterinary student at Virginia Tech. I still don’t know who nominated me for Governor’s School. I doubt I ever will; but I owe them everything.
I hadn’t thought once about college until Governor’s School. I had always just assumed I’d go to college because I needed to, and I had good grades and good test scores. But I hadn’t thought about any real logistics—where I’d go, how or when I’d apply, what I needed to apply, how I’d pay for it all. These concepts just weren’t a part of my life.
Governor’s School introduced me to majors, to research projects, to what it meant to be a college student. To Virginia Tech. Until that summer I hadn’t considered what school I’d go to. After that summer I only had one option. Virginia Tech infiltrated my soul. I applied early, and only, to Tech. I didn’t even consider looking at programs or qualifications. I just knew that I was meant to be a Hokie, nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains.
And once again luck carried me there.
Sure, I had good grades. I was a dedicated student. I volunteered and participated in extracurricular activities. But I never did any of these things with the express goal of getting into college. Of gaining skills for an eventual career. I did what I enjoyed doing and that was that.
I majored in Animal and Poultry Sciences, with emphasis on Equines, and Beef and Sheep production. I wanted to work with large animals—because I liked them.
I wanted to be a veterinarian but I didn’t really know what that entailed.
My parent’s had jobs, but not careers. They fell into their work, doing whatever it took to keep their heads above water. If that. They didn’t know what it meant to pursue a job that required higher education and technical training, and they couldn’t help prepare me for such a thing. I guess I could have been more proactive, but it’s hard to know what you’re missing when it’s never been a part of your world.
My job was school, and I loved it—learning, being a student. But I was woefully underprepared in terms of practical experience. I spent a summer volunteering as a summer camp counselor on a hobby horse farm, and a few summers in the kennel of an emergency vet, all while taking classes. But I grew up poor and isolated from the farms my peers had access to. I didn’t have the resources to drive to the big equine veterinary practices hours away; I didn’t have access to beef cattle or sheep.
And I had no idea what it meant to be prepared for competitive professional school. I was a good student, but not excellent. I took classes that challenged me because I was interested, not classes where I could get a GPA boost. I did some undergraduate research, and was an undergraduate teaching assistant, but I didn’t have a lot of professional experience. I did my best, but I was naïve and unprepared.
I didn’t get into veterinary school.
At the end of the year, right before graduation, I had a professor who suggested I’d be a good graduate student. I had fallen in love with reproductive physiology, and had a department head a Tech who was willing to give me a chance at the last minute, with an incoming professor.
I had no idea what graduate school meant. I just wanted to go, boost my GPA, and apply to veterinary school again.
My naivety, unrelenting optimism, and dreams kept me going. I wanted to be a Doctorate. I wanted to make a difference in the world.
I still had no idea what I was doing.
And something changed while I was working on my master’s. I became ill. Chronically ill.
One day, without warning, and still without explanation, I developed what I can only describe as migraines. We still don’t know if they were or not. I was light sensitive, sound sensitive, and in constant pain. It lasted for 10 months straight. Without reprieve.
My endometriosis also grew worse, causing severe pain in my right hip.
I never missed class. I taught. I did my very best. But I had to quit work at the research barn. And I had to select my research project to something that I could physically do—which excluded microscopes and a lot of work around livestock.
My life was forever altered.
I completed my master’s but veterinary school was no longer on the table. Neither was continuing in Animal Science. I just wasn’t physically capable.
I had fallen in love with teaching. I had a friend who graduated a year before me and who had switched to instructional design and technology for her doctorate. And I needed a new direction for my life. I will forever be grateful to Dr. Knight whose pedagogy inspired me, and who took interest in me as a teaching assistant. And to Sammie, who introduced me to a whole new field.
I wanted to be a Doctorate. But I never had a clear, definitive career goal in mind. By this time, I was just a professional student. I was good at it.
Switching fields blew my mind; it opened up the world for me. I saw everything in a new light. And I adored it.
And steadily, my health grew worse. I no longer had headaches, but I still had ocular migraines—flashes of light in my field of vision. My endometriosis grew, putting me in constant pain. I developed a collection of neurological symptoms that came and went without warning. And to top it all off I became depressed.
My life became managing my illnesses. I held an assistanceship and attended classes; I completed my qualifying exam… but mostly I visited doctors, and therapists, and slept. As much as I tried to work on my preliminary exams, I couldn’t make any progress. I spun my mental wheels on writing my preliminary exam for over a year, making no progress.
I took a hard look at my life, and made the decision to graduate with an Education Specialist degree, stepping down from the Doctorate program I had originally pursued. It broke my heart, but I tried my best and I made the most responsible decision I could.
My health has… become managed. I had surgery for my endometriosis. I avoid triggering my migraines to the best of my ability. I take my medication and visit my doctors. Things have improved.
I still didn’t know exactly what I want to do with my instructional design degree, but I know I want to help others. I know I love learning and pedagogy. I love design and problem solving. Most of all I love the friends I’ve made along the way—how they support and inspire me to do my best and make the world a better place.