Has anyone else accidentally fallen in to their discipline?
I’m sure there are plenty of you who knew from an early age you wanted to be a counselor. Or an engineer. Maybe even a biologist, or a ruminant nutritionist, or a psychologist. But for every one of you, I have to imagine there’s another one of me: someone who literally stumbled sideways into my discipline and found myself looking around wondering where I was, how I got here, and why there were maggots in my nitrile gloved hand.
Maybe I should provide some context.
I started off my undergraduate career as an English major (and loved it). I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do with it (the mantra of a liberal arts freshman, am I right?) but I liked it – and I was good at it – and that was enough.
Fellow liberal arts majors can attest to one of the greatest perks of an arts degree: electives. There was so much room in my degree plan to explore non-mandatory aspects of my own discipline, but also to venture into disciplines I may never otherwise have discovered. I took a film course on auteurism and it changed the way I experience films of all types (Dr. Humphrey – if you’re reading this – I still think about Derek Jarman sometimes when I encounter interesting narrative structures). I took an ice skating class, and it taught me how to stop without running into the wall (and that I would never, ever be an Olympic figure skater and also that I bruise easily). I took an entomology course and it, well – it pretty much changed everything.
In the Fall of 2010, I’d taken an introductory forensics class. It was interesting and I enjoyed it, so I went on to take the only other forensics course offered to non-forensics majors at the time: forensic entomology. That class would fill my last elective slot on my B.A. degree plan, I’d finish it, move on, and go be my English major self in the real world after graduation
That was the plan, at least.
But what I found in that class was that I liked entomology. No, like, I really
liked entomology. Insects are incredibly interesting and complex, and the things they can tell us about the world around us blew my mind. What’s the water quality like in that stream? How might this disease have spread from one continent to another? When was this person murdered? Is this nursing home taking care of their patients? How do we even begin to combat antibiotic resistant infections? All questions with answers that can be informed by insects.
So instead of graduating a year early with my B.A. in English as planned, I added on an entire second bachelor’s degree in Entomology (and ended up taking a victory lap to do so… sorry, Mom, and sorry Provost’s Office and 4-year matriculation rates). Now – nearly seven years after that forensic entomology class – I routinely return home with hair and clothes that smell like death (the perks of blow fly research) and find myself looking at the squirmiest, most adorable, most disgusting little maggot butts under the microscope. And I love it, but sometimes I do wonder how I would explain this to ten year-old me. Like, why does my freezer have more Tupperware with insects inside than food? Why do I have a plushie mosquito with accompanying stuffed versions of malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and Zika? Why am I holding a cockroach in my profile picture on Facebook… and smiling about it? And how is it possible the number one thing on my Christmas list this year was a vintage book titled “The Hungry Fly” and why on earth is it over $200?
So that’s how I got here – I peeked around a curtain just to see what was there and ended up falling head first into the void. How did you end up in your discipline – is it something you always wanted to do, or did you discover it “by accident” like I did? Comment below with your own origin story!
Jennifer is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Entomology