The Journey of a Graduate Student
By: Clara Perez
The elders in our lives often preach the idea that through “hard-work and determination, all of our dreams can come true.” Whether it’s our parents, mentors, role models, professors, supervisors, or public figures–this general “don’t give up on your dreams” theme has been spoon fed to us since birth.
Well, what happens when you work over a quarter of your life for a dream, that in your mid-twenties, you realize is unobtainable? What is a millennial to do?
I found myself asking, what is a millennial to do, as I entered my second semester as a College of Staten Island biology graduate student. I have worked my entire life up till this point in hopes of becoming a Marine Biologist.
An aspiration my baby-boomer parents fully supported and encouraged. The baby-boomer generation holds value in the idea that anything is possible and that making a difference is what’s important. So having a daughter who wanted to save the ocean, surely excited them to their cores.
I have wanted to study marine science since I was 6 years old, when I opened my first National Geographic magazine to their spread about humpback whales.
Their iconic photo of a marine biologist seemingly shaking hand-to-fin with a giant humpback underwater, drew me into the dream and never let me go…until now.
Spending my high school years excelling at a school specializing in marine science, I had high hopes that I would be destined for greatness in college. I applied to my dream school, Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY. It was the perfect choice for me at the time, not too close to home but close enough to come home to do giant loads of laundry twice a month.
Plus, it has an amazing marine science program that is home to professors that are the heavy hitters in the scientific world. As you can imagine, I was elated at the news of my acceptance and I went on to spend four intense and wonderful years there. Upon my graduation in 2013, I decided that I needed some time off to collect myself and reconnect with my passion on a personal level, not a scholastic one.
Two years flew by and I got nothing accomplished, except for a measly part-time job at an afterschool program pretending to teach science. Most of my time was spent on homework help, cell-phone-wrangling and drama diffusing. It was 2015, time to take my GRE and apply to graduate school, with hope of continuing my quest for a career working with humpback whales.
The GRE is basically the same type of standardized tests we have taken our entire lives–except on steroids. Its verbal reasoning section has terms and vocabulary that no one in the 21st century utilizes and the quantitative reasoning section is well, math.
I took this dreadful GRE twice. I wasn’t impressed with my score the first time and so I decided to tackle it again after more studying, and to my absolute surprise and horror, I received the exact same score as the first time. It was if it was foreshadowing for what was to come.
Accepting my score and moving forward, I began my application processes for schools in California, Hawaii and Florida. Those locations are the epitome of cutting-edge marine science work.
I applied to four schools for admission in the fall of that year. I submitted all of my paperwork along with three letters of recommendation from professors, letters that were going to knock the socks of the admissions board at these schools.
Once again, I had high hopes. By the time May of 2015 rolled in, I had four rejection letters with no explanation and no hope. My parents chimed in as usual with their baby-boomer mantra of “anything is possible if you keep working towards it.”
As a millennial, I fed into the positivity with my own self confidence and undying optimism for my future as a marine biologist. So by the end of 2015, I had four new applications ready to go. This time, I applied to grad schools in California, Florida and Maryland–with those same (assumingly) stellar recommendations backing me up.
Convinced that 2016 would be my year, since 2015 knocked me on my ass more than once, I, in true millennial style, still had high hopes. Yet I found myself mewling over four more rejection letters. That’s a total of eight rejections from 4 states, from one coast to the other, for anyone not paying attention.
At this point I decided there had to be something wrong with my applications. In efforts to make this long story shorter, let’s just say I came to find out that one of my heavy hitting professors wrote lies and completely bashed and ripped me apart in his “letter of recommendation,” with the last line reading:
“Based on my experience with Clara in my classes, I would not accept her into my lab.” Needless to say, I had my answer as to why I was rejected from so many schools.
After starting up a lawsuit for defamation of character, this millennial still felt that she had to move forward with her education and continue to chase her goals.
This led me to my hometown’s College of Staten Island in the Fall of 2016. In my two semesters here, I have switched majors from environmental science to biology, in hopes of working with professors and a curriculum needed to achieve my dream.
In the search for the right niche here at CSI, I came to the devastating realization that I may never become a marine biologist. I struggled with the feeling of hopelessness and loss because I have worked my entire life for that dream, and because I seriously let down 6-year-old me clutching my National Geographic magazine.
What did I do next you ask? I did what any millennial, who couldn’t bear to hear her optimistic baby-boomer parents any longer, would do–I talked it over with my best friend.
After a conversation that led to a self-reflection that then led to an epiphany, I realized that the only things I enjoy in this world, that I might be able to do professionally, are marine science and writing.
With only those two passions and a spark of hope, I began to research what my next dream may be. I uncovered the world of science writers, which is a marriage between my beloved science and writing affinities.
Since my discovery a month ago, I have begun writing my own nature blog under the alias of “The Ecologist,” began writing for my currents jobs newsletter about STEM careers and have begun writing for this publication, the Banner.
Staying true to my millennial core values, I hope to become a prolific writer and possibly write for National Geographic one day. Hopefully, I can inspire another 6 –year-old who may happen to stumble upon my spread.