When I was a little girl I wanted to be a veterinarian. I’m told it was one of the first words I could say. Probably that and snickerdoodle – I was a pretty fat kid. Then when I was 12 I found out you could study animals AND be outside for a living, so I decided that sounded pretty good. I started on the trek to becoming a wildlife biologist.
In the beginning they draw you in with the good stuff. “Get an internship,” they say, “play with wild animals while not getting paid.” I didn’t really think about the fact this was precisely what I had been doing since I was seven years old, because now I could put it on a resume. I spent the summer I was 18 years old as an intern working on an osprey reintroduction project. Translation: I spent all morning swimming and fishing, then I would climb up a tower and feed the fish to cute baby raptors. “This is the coolest career, ever,” thought 18-year-old Jane.
Then I went to college. I got college credit for someone to take me in the woods and show me how to catch animals in a sciencey kind of way. But I also had to take Organic Chemistry and other useless garbage classes which I immediately forgot. Fifty-fifty awesome:garbage ratio = totally worth it.
Then they start to shift on you. First of all, you find out with a BS in Wildlife Biology you can make approximately $37/year. Then they crush your spirit, but just enough to keep you engaged, “You know, if you really want to make a difference in conservation, you have to work with people – get them to care about wildlife.” So I went on to the old masters degree, but this time focused in human dimensions of wildlife, or understanding how humans and wildlife interact. Next thing I knew I had spent two years behind a computer coding analyses in statistics programs, and the only interaction I had with any animals was when my poor dog would wander into my home office and remind me he hadn’t eaten in seven days or so.
“Too far,” I thought. “I got way off course here. I need to get back to my roots.”
“Hmmm…” they said. “Well, that’s great you studied human dimensions and all, but now we don’t think you’re qualified to go outside anymore.”
Off to the Ph.D. This time I was determined to take charge. I was going to go outside, play with wild animals, become super qualified and get paid to do it all, damn it. But it turns out PhD means turn your life into a Pretty Huge Dumpsterfire. My days are a combination of frantic writing, being behind, getting emails about how behind I am, writing suffocating code in statistics programs, and stifling the realization of just how inept I am.
But, every once in a while, I get to go outside. Alone in the woods I remember my 12 year old self, who knew there was nothing else in the world I wanted to do. And I am happy.