#IamScience: Embracing Personal Experience on Our Rise Through Science

Magical things can happen when you enthusiastically open your mouth on the internet. One of these magical things is learning how personal experience shapes people’s lives. Looking into others causes you to look into yourself. And then something really magical happens – we learn we are not alone. Among our unique, personal experiences lies a universal experience we all share – the events of lives have shaped who we have become to a great extent.

Now, I’m not talking about any genetic versus environmental components here.  That’s not what this is about. Somehow there became a “norm” of being in science. Likely a stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood. I refuse to believe it is a holdover from the “good ole days” of science when it was a gentlemen’s club. Surely, if we have unique experiences, trials and tribulations that have defined our very being, so did they.

But this chatter is not saved in the archives of history; it wasn’t broadcasted all over the internet, exposed for all the world to see. Our generation(s) are unique in this regard. We share. A lot. Sometimes, too much, but we persist. We crave acceptance, a comfort in knowing that while we might pride ourselves on our unique attributes we are not also alienated by them.

Science has a way of making us disembody ourselves, divorcing personality from career. But this is that strange “norm” we’ve been beaten over the head with creeping up on us again. Why did we do this to ourselves? The aspects of our mentors we are most surprised at discovering often tend to be personality quirks. My advisor has a hobby?? Plays in a band?? My tenured genetics professor FAILED genetics when they were in college??

Preposterous as it may seem, everyone – even in science – is pretty unique. We of the generations X and Y just talk about it. In fact, the distinguishing characteristic between those scientists online and those offline is our unfathomable ability to not shut up. Somehow, we tend to be just as productive on average. Individual mileage may vary.

So I became interested in these personal stories of people’s rise to a career in science because I wanted to define “traditional” careers. My view of a traditional rise to a career in science involves going to college right after high school, do well and get accepted in a graduate school, do research and graduate, 1-3 postdocs, obtain satisfying job in academia or other research institute.

What I found instead was amazing and eye-opening. To quote a favorite song of mine from Reckless Kelly, “My first love was an angry painful song. I wanted one so bad I went and did everything wrong. A lesson in reality would come before too long. My first love was an angry, painful song.” It’s a song I actually play out live because I identify with it. Yes, that’s right. I play live guitar at a local pub when I can find the time. In fact, I’ve played live for years in a variety of bands since 6th grade. I even went to a vocational school and got a diploma in audio engineering, interning at a recording studio in Oakland, CA.  I was laid off during the recording of Green Day’s Warning.

Science was never in my cards. I was bored in high school. It took too long and I could be doing drugs, hitting on girls, practicing songs with my band, creating mischief around town (I don’t think the city ever found their manhole covers…), or any number of things that was NOT school-related. I took the minimum requirements and never once thought about going to college. That was for dorks and preppies, and it cost a lot of money. No. I was certainly destined for rockstardom. How hard could it be, right?

Eventually, I was worn out, laid-off, and in a strange Californian city far from my Iowan roots with no friends, no money, no clue what to do except cook. And I cooked for many years: Frank’s Pizzeria, Applebees, Panera, smoky hole in the wall pubs, upscale delis. I baked for a German castle lodge and was a chef apprentice at a 4 star dining club. My life was a wreck, I kept moving jobs to whoever would pay me a quarter more per hour than the last job. All this didn’t help the drug situation, amphetamines are cook’s best friends, after all.

Having nothing and no one to lean on, I started spending all my time trying to connect with some shred of humanity online. I’d stay up all night just getting shit-faced drunk and hang out with my friends – who existed as clever pseudonyms and cartoonish avatars on my monitor screen. I hung out in an online “pub” on the once popular 6 degrees website during the late 1990s. It was just a chatroom started by some dude, probably just as lonely as confused as I was, but it drew a steady and loyal following. I got to know the participants as if they were my old high school buddies from just a couple years back. Even met a few in person while I was living out of my car bumming around the US and Canada.

One user stood out though, a girl from Sweden. Eventually we chatted on the phone, taking turns calling each other to share the long distance fees. Neither of us were happy in our lives and I somehow convinced her to come over to the US. She saved up money, even working overtime through the millenium New Year’s, bought a plane ticket and headed to San Francisco. I was living across the bay in Berkeley at the time, or as a I called it “Bezerkley”. We fell in love, she overstayed her visa and we eventually got married and 12 years later here we are still madly in love with 2 cute, screechy little horrors running around our knees.

My wife saved my life. I was asking for it, but too proud to ask directly. She believed in me and somehow I found myself enrolled in Vista Community College in Berkeley, CA, later Monterey Peninsula College after leaving Berkeley to get away from the crazy people. With renewed focus I found I was very good at math and science and felt pulled into this area, mostly because of my interest in evolution and ecology. This was cemented after transferring to UC – Davis, a truly wonderful place to be for someone who loves evolution and ecology.

The details are left out from my teenage years and my 20s. Nights spent crying because I felt like a complete failure in life, nights spent on speed, nights spent stoned or drunk, nights spent wondering which store I’m going to steal food, booze and cigarettes from (Always 4pm at one of the gas stations nearby while they did the shift change). I lived off my credit card for months cause I didn’t know what to do. I was crushed I couldn’t work in the music industry and hated having to cook for a living. I just didn’t know how to piece my life together.

Even after the dust settled and I was in a stable relationship and had committed to college, I had no clue how to live life. How to “succeed”?? At each step, I never seemed to comprehend what the next steps were. Graduate school was just as painful, and really an entire post in its own, I get very bitter just thinking about it. But at least during that time I was drug-free, had a caring wife and to my kids I was always a “success”.

As much as I like to think so, my situation was not unique. The details surely are. I hope no one has to go through the self-inflicted emotional torment and turmoil that I endured. But we are all confused and struggle, and the lesson is that we don’t have to do it alone. And it is so hard to tell people this. Especially people who don’t know they are struggling. They aren’t used to it. They’ve emerged from their cocoon and are now a newly hatched butterfly finding their footing facing a murder of hungry crows.

When you’ve been through hell, you can recognize what struggle looks like in other people. It’s painful to watch. I’m watching a friend struggle with his PhD and lab experience right now and won’t talk to anyone about it. He has the “just plow through and get it done” attitude. That’s nice, but it’s not human, and frankly, it won’t work. Yet, this inhuman sort of mind-set is what is drilled into us. It’s revered, respected and part of this mythical “norm”. Science is meant to be soulless, emotionally exempt – yet, we are supposed to all be excited we are doing SCIENCE!

It’s all very confusing and we shouldn’t do it alone.

One of the great things social media has done for the human condition is to aggregate like-minded people. I had the extreme fortune of spending half of last week in Raleigh with the most wonderful 450 people that could ever be assembled in one place – Science Online. One of several unifying characteristics of this group is their love for being social online. This has fostered amazing, productive interactions among people and provided a welcoming atmosphere that tends to be infectious.

Feeling inspired last night after witnessing a disheartening exchange about gender roles – a constant, but important, topic – I made a series of open observations. One thing we do poorly is recognizing diversity of personal experiences and how that shaped who we are at this moment. It is all too easy to lump “scientists” into a group that should conform to the aforementioned mythical “norm”. That’s the easy way out and it negates a long chain of events that led up to who we are today.

Had I not experienced a world of drugs, failure, loneliness and utter confusion I might never have been led to participate strongly online and I might never have met the woman of my dreams who I owe everything I’ve managed to achieve today, and I might never have had this beautiful family that I’ve treasured more than anything, such that a life in academia would interfere so much that 16 hour days would be deemed unacceptable to me. It was this decision that to led to my interest in science communications and evangelism, which led me to use social media and meet this amazing group of dedicated scientists and communicators who wish to be the change they want to see in the culture of science.

The keynote speaker of Science Online, Mireya Mayor, told a similar story. The details are very different, but the lesson is the same. A series of events and emotions and experiences that shaped what she became. Her talk was a case study in how different our lives can be while the end goal can still be similar – doing good science. The overarching lesson was reiterated during Janet Stemwedel’s storytelling about her daughter – “the pretty pink princess” – who was unimpressed with gender-coded science kits for girls. This lesson was that we can still be ourselves and be successful in science. It didn’t matter if you were a cheerleader, a pink princess, or a hairy-legged feminist. Each can do science and has the potential to do it well.

This is when the realization hit me that we all have amazing stories that we bottle up inside us. Perhaps we are embarrassed about them or just think no one cares. So I started the twitter hashtag #IamScience and implored my twitter friends to tweet their “nontraditional” experiences. The response was overwhelming. I’ve included a storify of all the responses below. I’ve read every single one and am truly humbled to be in the wake of such amazing individuals who have overcome so much to be where they are today.

It really hit home for me, though, when @katyannc tweeted: “I’m about to cry reading the #IAmScience tweets. Having a hard time making it out of undergrad and suddenly I don’t feel so alone.” This is why we needed this. Maybe one of us can save someone else’s life because they suddenly don’t feel so alone anymore. That, yes, we can have strange, difficult experiences. We know they affect us, but can’t quite put into words how. The just become part of the thread of our being, a memory or a lesson learned.

I want you to read these. Do you identify with the tweeters? Does it humanize the experience of being part of a culture of science? Where do we go next? I don’t want anyone to feel alone in their ascent through science. To this end I would like to curate a free e-book of submissions from people about their experiences – good and bad, whatever you are willing to share. Put your name on it or keep it anonymous, doesn’t matter, but people need to hear how your experiences in the past shaped who you are today and what you do.

If you are interested in participating in this project, I’d love to hear from you. Please email me at kzelnio at gmail dot com. Submissions are whatever is necessary for you to tell your story, up to 5000 words. Include drawing, sketchpads, poetry, whatever you need to tell your story.

UPDATE: The response has been extremely overwhelming, many personal #IamScience stories are appearing on blogs and the twitter stream hasn’t ended! I’ve aggregated the representative tweets and all the blog posts and personal stories about science at the I AM SCIENCE tumblr. Please follow along and check back there often!

Kevin Zelnio (886 Posts)





58 comments on “#IamScience: Embracing Personal Experience on Our Rise Through Science
  1. This is an incredibly raw and honest post. Personal stories like this are so powerful- they show the world that scientists are humans, with fears and hopes and passions. They show others that you don’t have to have a “perfect” experience to do science, and do it well. I like to think my nontraditional path, as difficult as it was, makes me a better scientist today. I am so grateful to be here, and to get to do this thing that I love every single day. And I worked my ass off, in life and in school, to get here.

    Thank you for starting this!

  2. Your story sounds a lot like mine — except I’m still in school now, at 35. A guidance counselor in high school told me, essentially, that I sucked at science — and wouldn’t I be happier reading books and writing poetry? I listened to her and was miserable because of it. I had wanted to be involved in some kind of science since I was 3. It took just about 20 years to realize that I HAVE to do what I love now, regardless of whether or not one person said I sucked. And incidentally, I really don’t suck at science. It’s nice to know I can do it — and am lucky enough to have the opportunity. Thanks for sharing your story with us. It resonates like you wouldn’t believe.

    • Seriously, we should just do away with guidance counselors! Thanks for sharing your story. I’m about the same age and it’s never too late!

    • A guidance counselor told my brother that he wasn’t fit for college and that, honestly, he should look into becoming a “garbage man.” His grades in high school were poor for sure, but what the guidance counselor didn’t know or care to take stock of in his assessment was that my brother was an extremely talented bass player and musician.

      After high school, with no thought of college in mind, my brother went on to work in kitchens around the world. Although he liked to cook and loved the lifestyle for a few years, he became disenchanted and depressed. He didn’t feel intellectually stimulated and it ate at him. He went through a very dark period for a time, but fortunately was able to find his way to the light by answering the calling he felt towards science. He found a home at an arguably “unimpressive” undergraduate university where he worked extremely hard and quickly made an impression. He has since interned at Cambridge University and is now a PhD student at Brown.

      Imagine if he was to have listened to the guidance counselor?!

  3. Wow! I’m an undergrad at 51 and stressing about how hard it is. I sit at my computer and cry sometimes that I won’t get the GPA I need to get into grad school. I cry because I feel stupid. A couple of professors are pressuring me to do research, but I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t want to spend that many hours (in addition to studying) and working.

    I love science. I love school and love going to class and when I get an A (not very often) it rocks my world. I put in extra hours of study. (okay sometimes I watch five hours of Dr. Who or Buffy)

    Both of those people are me. I just wish I could forget about grades and GPA. I just want to learn science!

    Thanks for your blog kevin. Keep it up
    p.s. can someone explain twitter to me? I just don’t get it.

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  6. I quit high school six weeks before graduation. I worked in food service; I got active in historical preservation and family history research. I collected languages like some people collect china dolls, studying Spanish, French, German, and Classical Latin and Greek. I also married, divorced, raised kids… and went to work as a self-employed caterer. 16 years after quitting school, I started college, and 4 years on, I am newly graduated with a double major in Anthropology and the Humanities (humanities is a misnomer; my disciplinary focus was linguistics.) Right now, I have two jobs: I cater, and I dig. (I wonder if I can put ‘Archeologist/Cook’ on my resume’.) In two years my kids will be out of the house, and I plan to do grad school- I want a master’s in Linguistics. (I haven’t given up my childhood fantasy of deciphering linear A.) It’s never too late to learn something, and I plan to keep going til I die; probably in a classroom, a kitchen, or a trench.

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  8. This article is really great. I also really believe that our personal (and even, dare I say it, non scientific) experience shapes who we become as scientists. I remember a couple years ago one of the faculty at my university told me I couldn’t put where I grew up on my University Bio wepage, because he only wanted “research interests” that “are relevant to the student’s science career.” I happen to believe that growing up in a beautiful place close to nature had a large effect on my eventual choice to want to become a scientist, and I also believe that adding a little human detail to these profiles encourages prospective scientists students. A scientist’s profile that says, “I have published in such and such, and presented at this and that” doesn’t help anyone to connect to you as a person, or to be inspired because they also found beauty in nature.

    In the end, I left my profile as it was, but added, “my research interests have been influenced by” to the information he had thought was “irrelevant.”

    • Its so strange. I just don’t understand that mindset.We do such an injustice to ourself by not reflecting on how we got to where we are. I’m making it my life’s work to bring the soul back into science! In order to gain people’s trust, we must be people first!

      • Do you really not understand this mindset? If we acknowledge our everday humanity, we also have to admit that who we are, our experiences, our preferences and our biases shape the science that we do, the questions we choose to ask and the results we find.
        You mean since is NOT totally objective? OMG!!!

    • Thanks Adrian, I still not sure what I’ve accomplished. But I got lots of life ahead of me still, so expect even more awesome ;)

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  11. Truly an inspiring story, I am 41 and a undergrad. I have always wanted to learn the mysteries of the universe since I was a child but was told it was not for me. Of course I listened and too was miserable and lost. I’m now pursuing a degree in Astrophysics and have never been more determined to do something in my life! My wife provided the push I needed. You listen to people tell you your whole life you’re no smart enough then your soul mate comes along and tells you “Yes you can”.

  12. I’m finishing up my last year of undergrad, and just about to turn 36. Feels pretty lonely sometimes in a classroom full of teenagers, so it’s nice to hear about others who have taken a non-traditional path to science.

    I was very interested in biology as a kid. I wanted to be a veterinarian or an entomologist, but sometime in high school I inexplicably developed an irrational fear of math, despite having been rather good at it throughout my childhood. I suspect it may have been all those impending train collisions. At any rate, my lack of confidence in my math abilities kept me from university, and it took 16 years and the encouragement of my incredibly patient and supportive husband to get me back into the academic arena. They were years well-spent in many ways, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I built a house, learnt to make a mean cappuccino, got into cycling and moved across the continent several times, and I think I’m a better person for all my oddball experiences. Still, it’s not easy going back to school after all that living.

    I don’t think I’ll be going on with graduate studies, but I’m looking forward to a career as a lab tech in academic institutions, where I can be close to the action, engaged in my field of interest, and still making enough coin to survive on.

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  17. Thanks for your post. You have an awesome outlook and I love how you turned a negative situation into a positive! :) I am going share your project with the Journal of Infection in Developing Countries (JIDC) readers. I bet many of the readers would have great I Am Science stories.

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  20. Hi Kevin,
    I contributed a bit of my story to the twitter feed (@jchowning) but there is much more to it; there is some overlap with parts of your story, too. Now I lead several science education grants geared towards high school students – one of them specifically focused on careers in science. In fact, at the end of February at one of the NSF PI conferences I am leading a multi-day strand on “Career Pathways”! I am going to share about #Iamscience there. I found out about #Iamscience because one of my co-workers attended scionline and I also followed the conference. I have been thinking a LOT about the #Iamscience posts! When you said, “It really hit home for me, though, when @katyannc tweeted: “I’m about to cry reading the #IAmScience tweets. Having a hard time making it out of undergrad and suddenly I don’t feel so alone.” This is why we needed this. Maybe one of us can save someone else’s life because they suddenly don’t feel so alone anymore” it also hit home for ME, because I thought of all the high school kids I work with (and my teacher colleagues work with) who could benefit from these stories. I think I am going to invite folks who have bioinformatics-related stories to submit their stories to be linked to our career site for our grant work but maybe it could be broader in the future. So, this is a long way of saying I’d like to brainstorm with you more about that, and…maybe there are some potential ways we could think about sharing this with the next generation, if you are open to the idea!

    • Thanks for your awesome comment Jeanne and I am so excited that you are out thinking about ways to help high school students. Science careers can incredibly exciting, but for all the wrong reasons, leading to severe disappointment. Yet, the skills a science degree imparts can be incredibly useful and we need an emphasis on skill transferability. (I actually proposed a session on this for Science Online 2013 here: http://scio13.wikispaces.com/Program+Suggestions#altcareer)

      I am planning to use kickstarter to fund my time to weave the stories together into a free e-book and perhaps (depending on funding) send out hard copies to school libraries. Would be great to work together to get exposure for these stories! Keep your eye peeled on twitter for details or feel free to look up my contact info.

  21. What a great story! It’s very inspiring to me on a personal level. Some of our details are different, but I’m also a musician and smoked lots of pot and drank too much for a time. In high school I wanted to be a physicist, but was told by a math teacher that I sucked at math and that I would never be able to be a physicist because of it. I believed him and decided that science wasn’t for me despite the fact that I wanted to be some sort of scientist for as long as I could remember. Lacking direction in college, I stopped attending classes and dropped out. I thought I could be a professional musician, but that never went anywhere. So I spent about ten years in the service industry. Being sick of that, I decided to try to teach myself math to see if my teacher was wrong, and now I love math. I’m enrolled in community college now and I am doing really well in college algebra and can’t wait to move on to calculus. I’m also in an astronomy class, and I could read the textbook and listen to the professor all day and I’d be happy. I’m planning to get a B.S. in physics and move on to grad school after that.

    Thanks again for your great story, it’s really shown me that I’m on the right track and that despite my background, I am capable of turning my life around.

    • Wow! that’s really amazing! It’s so funny, maybe the problem with many students is that there not “good at math”, but that math isn’t taught well. I started off at Algebra I when I returned to community college. I was amazed at how fun math was. And shocked at myself. I made it all the way to Calculus II before I left for UC Davis. But I tutored math at the academic support center at my CC for pay to students with “learning disabilities”. But, really, these students (some older than myself at the time) just couldn’t be taught in a classroom setting. Even though they often got B’s and C’s, that was a vast improvement and I remember getting tons of thank you notes from them.

      Keep on doing what YOU think is right for yourself! I wish we weren’t so impressionable as youth, huh?

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  23. #IamScience is doing for Science what PostSecret did for the world, http://www.postsecret.com/, and it is a beautiful thing.

    Everyone often believes that they are alone in their circumstances, that no one else could possibly understand their story. The comfort comes when those barriers are broken down and we realize that the person next to us at a conference, in a classroom, or in the lab has faced battles as well, which have made them into the person they are today. We should take time to learn each others stories and know that we are never alone in our paths. I often like to think that everyone takes a different route to climb the mountain. No right or wrong way, just different.

    Just beginning my journey, but a journey that I hope will break the mold. #IAMSCIENCE

  24. I appreciate your openness and you’re right there are so many circuitous paths to a life of science. I was on a pretty traditional path in grad school and then realized after a lot of stress that the academic life was not what I wanted, I graduated but decided on a career change. I still love immersing myself in science, it’s a big part of who I am, and now I write about science. Thanks for sharing you story!

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  28. I never had my science aptitude taken seriously and even if it had been, the best I could have hoped for was to be a junior high science teacher (only men taught high school). I’m so glad I’ve found the world of science blogs to feed my need for more learning. Young people today are blessed to have this resource. Please do all you can to encourage others.

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  33. Hi Kevin,
    I am excited to find all these stories and the wonderful way Twitter has opened up the world of science to sharing life stories. I taught a course called Biographies of Biologists at Pomona College, and I wish I had this resource. Even today, there is this tendency to pretend everything was always OK for scientists. But people need to hear about the struggles. My women students convinced me to write a memoir because there was no biography of a married woman with children who kept doing science after marie Curie. They feared you had to be a workaholic loner to go into the field as a woman. These stories open all the windows and doors. Kudos to you! This is what we need.
    Me, I thought about music, but went straight into science. Princeton would not send me a graduate catalog. The professor with whom I talked at Caltech said they didn’t take women, it was nothing personal. I kept on. Professors asked if I was married, if I wanted to have kids. I kept on. I did manage to have a family. I love doing experiments with my students, and I love my family. If I had listened to the no-talk, I would be someone else.
    Go Kevin! Best, Laura Hoopes

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  39. I went to junior college in my late teens and early 20s and was a math major w/ a minor in physics/engineering. I didn’t get an AA degree (even though I had the credits– bad decision on my part) because I wasn’t impressed with it. During this time I had a little boy who died before he turned 2. The shock put me in a tailspin, and money became a real issue. I went to work for the county library as a 19 hour per week library clerk for 2 years when it became clear that even though I loved the job (who doesn’t love working with books and people who love them?), $108 biweekly wasn’t going to cut it. I wound up working as a clerk in the Post Office in 1976, and eventually became an electronic technician in 1980. Getting a regular paycheck every 2 weeks can be seductive… working a full time job and going to school seemed impossible. I remained a science junkie (I am to this day) and read popular magazine writeups and non technical books on current scientific research, and figured that was as close as I was ever going to get to “real science”. I met my husband in a TTY repair class (a technician training class in Oklahoma). He was older than I was. He encouraged me, eventually, to go back to school and start building a life for myself for when I retired, and when he, finally, wasn’t around. I started back to school in my late 40s, finished my BA, and finished a master’s in computer science (which took me 9 years) in 2010, when I was 62. The research I work on and publish in came about because I offered to help with a project that had a very short deadline, which lead to a paper at a not very good conference, which lead to a better conference that was running concurrently, which led to a chance to go to U Hawaii for a 3 week summer session, which led to meeting someone in astrobiology at NASA, which led to NASA Spaceward Bound in the Mojave, and to the area of research I do now (modeling biological growth on cave walls and soil crusts in the desert, using cellular automata), which led to contacts at other universities that are now collaborating on this research (One of the questions I got was, “what the hell were you doing working for the Post Office”. The answer was, “Putting food on the table for my family.”, and a very gracious lady,scientist, and future collaborator, Penny Boston, replied, “This is where you should have been in the first place, and welcome home.”)… which has lead to 7 papers and other publications and continuing research. I never expected to be doing anything like this. I also get to mentor other women in computer science and computer engineering, and talk to other women going back to school to finish degrees that were abandoned to raise families, which is my opportunity to give something back after working with a bunch of guys in a non traditional field. The one thing I take away from this is a strong belief in the power of (apparently) random, unexpected connections, and what can happen if you just say yes to things that come at you out of nowhere and really appeal to you.

    In the mean time, one of the goals of going back to school was to show my teenaged, ADD son what you need to do to succeed in school. The jury on that endeavor was out for 12 or 13 years until very recently. He is now months away from leaving the army after 3 tours in the middle east. He is working toward a premed bachelor’s and plans to go to medical school and specialize in emergency medicine, which is a perfect fit for a bright guy who’s an adrenaline junky. My husband, who was my best friend, who gently pushed me at all this and supported me, lost his battle with cancer the year after I got to go to Hawaii, and meet and work with NASA’s Spaceward Bound in the Mojave Desert. In that same year my son was on his first tour in Iraq, my daughter-in-law was living with us, my husband was diagnosed with cancer, and my youngest sister died suddenly and I had to take care of her affairs, as well as my husband. My personal life was so rife with tragedy that I didn’t talk about it, except with very close personal friends, and suddenly my professional life is taking off, dragging me behind it, and I didn’t talk about that, either, because it sounded like I was making it up. The disconnect between the two parts of my life was surreal. It was very tough then, but ultimately, that same disconnect in my professional life may have been my lifeline– the thing that saved me and got me through the grief and the pain.

    Sorry about the length of this post, but it was a long and twisted path…

    • Jane, your story is so extremely moving. I too am interested/pursuing astrobiology research, and have been a fan of Penny Boston’s work for several years now. I also have had a somewhat difficult journey to becoming a scientist, including: a physically and emotionally abusive childhood that culminated in my parents violent and drawn-out divorce during my senior year of high-school, lots of drug use in an attempt to escape the memories of my home life, a complete lack of direction in my career (I really wanted to be an artist for a long while…and I still consider myself one, just not a paid one), and an eventual diagnosis of PTSD and subsequent psychological therapy treatments. Somewhere along the way I found molecular biology, and earned a B.S. at the University of Texas. I’m now entering a PhD program at UCSD/SDSU to study metagenomics, and feel more centered and empowered than I ever have in my life. I never really talked about my problems either, until recently. Seeing your post prompted me to share my story, and to let you know that you are definitely not alone. Our identities are really just the sum of our experiences and how we react to them. Those of us who are scientists became such by what we’ve been through in our lives, both good and bad.

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