In light of TCB’s recent disclosure of his own chemical beginnings, I thought I’d toss my story into the mix. I’m just starting research, so there’s no better time than now to reflect on why I got into chemistry in the first place. Where do I begin…?
My mom’s side of the family has always been very scientifically minded. My maternal grandfather was the dean of engineering at Kentucky, and both of her brothers are engineers. Growing up, talking science with my uncles and grandpa felt like being in my own personal secret club. It felt, as crazy as it sounds, like I was privy to some secret mass of knowledge beyond the general public. My grandpa used to give me books on subjects that were hopelessly beyond me, spurred on by the glee I expressed every time he passed down some worn old tome to me. I remember getting a book from the 1950s on complex analysis when I was in like sixth grade–I didn’t understand a word of the damn thing, but “reading” it made me happy anyway. True to the movies, being a bookworm helped me avoid the usual dramatic bullshit that happens in those years too, for the most part.
All through high school, I wanted to be a chemical engineer like my grandfather. My high school chemistry teacher was certainly a character (aren’t they all?), but he wasn’t the most inspiring teacher in the world. In those days, chemistry was basically a means to an end for me. A stepping stone towards bigger and better things. Looking back, even if I knew I wanted to be a chemist back in high school, I still wouldn’t have cared about high school chemistry. I mean hell, it was high school!
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college, when I realized that the “end” to which most engineers work is quite simply saving green and nothing more (and I don’t mean the environment). My internship that winter was an absolute disaster both for me and the company. Most of the engineers I’ve talked to since then have told me that internships like that are very “company dependent,” and I believe that’s true. However, back then, the internship was part of a perfect storm in my life that indicated that a big change was necessary. Engineering just wasn’t going to cut the mustard.
Sitting on two years of chemistry classes I figured, why not try chemistry? And the rest is history. The possibilities for someone with a chemistry degree really are endless, and it was this open-endedness that really helped me figure out that I wanted to be a professor. Not to mention the much larger percentage of women in the major was, frankly, an intellectual inspiration. Heed my words kiddies: chemist = chick magnet!