QUESTION: Is there anything you wish you had done, or done differently (fellowship, 6-month trip to India, get married before rather than after school, etc.) over the course of your training, starting in college?
FROM: GradStudent, child-less, unmarried 20-something aspiring science researcher and medical school instructor
Oh, the “woulda-shoulda-coulda” question! Isn’t it human nature to question what we’ve done and what might have been if we had taken a different course of action at some point?
That said, there are some things that I wish I would have known when I was at your stage of the game. Specifically, I wish that someone had told me that taking a little extra time to complete my schooling would not impact my future adversely. When we’re in undergraduate (and even high school!), there’s a pressure to complete everything ASAP. However, most of us need a little time to percolate (OK, mature) before we reach our full potential. Additionally, learning to savor time away from a job (or books) can help make our productive time that much more productive.
I’m happy that I delayed marriage until after my formal schooling was done – I didn’t have to worry about spending extra time in the library prior to exams, nor did I have to worry that my husband didn’t really understand why a lab finished at 3P one day but not until after 6 on another. I didn’t have children until the end of residency, and I wouldn’t change that – I think I needed the extra time to sow my wild oats!
But, even with these items in mind, as I look back on my experience in college and med school there are a few things that I wish I would have done differently. The college I attended for my undergraduate education had (has) a terrific overseas study program. At the time, I felt that I needed to concentrate on my science courses rather than spend time on additional language classes, and so I didn’t think twice about ignoring the information about the program that crossed my path. In retrospect, I think that to have had an experience of being completely immersed in another culture would have been good for me – personally, to have shaken me out of my cocoon of comfort, and professionally, so that I’d have some empathy for those patients I see who are new to our way of life. In a similar vein, perhaps I should have gone on the “backpacking in Europe” summer trip that I was too afraid to pursue at age 22. I wouldn’t have worried as much about majoring in a science, but would have spent more time in classes that I really enjoyed. I would have learned earlier that just because something comes easily to me doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile for me to pursue. I would have recognized sooner that life is a journey, not a destination.
So, dear GradStudent, I hope this answered your question. As you look ahead to your career in research, or teaching (or whatever you ultimately decide on), don’t be afraid to take a detour – it might be one of the best decisions you’ll make!