This morning I got this email from a SeaMonster reader:
I am the 26 year old daughter of an entomologist and horticulturist who has finally found her calling in marine conservation and a frequent reader of Sea Monster, and have decided to go back to university and get another degree in Biology in order to pursue my dream. The semester just started here in Germany and I just had my second lab yesterday. I left feeling slightly downtrodden, as the professor who held our lab that day started off the class by telling us that if any of us are intending on going down the conservation path and don’t already know heaps about the organisms living in our target ecosystem, then it’s too late to start learning about them now and we should basically rethink our goals. My parents have been teaching me about insects and plants since I could talk, and I definitely know more about them than the average biology freshman, but as interesting as I find them, I would really like to work in marine conservation – particularly in the rehabilitation of fish populations and other aquatic species. At the moment I’m thinking of wetland and coastal ecosystems, possibly mangrove forests or estuaries, but I know that could all change over the course of my studies. My concern is that I really don’t know that much about the organisms inhabiting those ecosystems, at least not as much as other kinds of organisms, but it is what I want to do with my life. Do you think it is too late for me, or that I am being naive in hoping to pursue such a dream?
People frequently say to me “I wanted to be a marine biologist”. They are always middle age adults, usually comfortable in life and in their career, but they have regrets for not pursuing their dream. Don’t grow up to be one of these people! Go for it now!
started off the class by telling us that if any of us are intending on going down the conservation path and don’t already know heaps about the organisms living in our target ecosystem, then it’s too late to start learning about them now and we should basically rethink our goals.
Wrong! Most students start school knowing little or nothing about what ends up being their study system (often coral reefs in my lab but also estuaries, seagrass beds, algae, mangroves, etc). They pick it up. Almost NOBODY in the US comes into college knowing any detail about a system or type of organism. You can learn the natural history or literature about a system in a year or two (or more depending on the complexity of the system).
Do you think it is too late for me, or that I am being naive in hoping to pursue such a dream?
No. Not at all. You prof is a jerk and an idiot. A high school career advisor (Mr Williams) told me the same thing when I was 17 (“Marine Biology is too hard, you are not smart enough, you should go to trade school blah, blah, blah”). (Note, Nobel Prize winner John Gurdon was told by a teacher he was “too stupid for science”). As a result, I put off my dream for years. In fact, I didn’t even graduate college (with a BS in Biology) until I was 25, started grad school at 27 and didnt get my PhD until I was 35. Most of my graduate students start on their PhDs in their mid to late 20s. It isn’t a race. There is a lot to learn and you will keep learning your whole life.
I’d love to hear the thoughts of current students and other people that are going though this and have experienced some of these issues.