I still remember the last day of my undergraduate degree quite clearly. It was the end of my semester studying abroad in Leeds, U.K., and I had one final exam in the morning. Upon finishing the exam, I went outside and the sun was actually shining, which seemed like a complete and utter miracle in the U.K.
The next day, I embarked on a trip around Europe with a friend I’d met on exchange. We saw so many amazing sites, ate so much wonderful food, met so many cool and weird people, and slept on way too many airplanes. It was an amazing adventure and the absolute best way to wrap up my undergraduate experience.
I then flew home for a good long nap. For the first time, I hadn’t really planned what I was going to do next, wanting to just enjoy the feeling of having all the options in the world for a little bit. That enjoyment faded into frustration and boredom surprisingly quickly. There are so many possibilities, so many jobs and volunteer opportunities and degrees and places to travel. Where to start?
I think that, in the long run, it might not matter where you start. Every experience is sure to offer you extensive excitement, challenge, intrigue, amazement, and learning. And you never know what you’ll learn or how you will change from an experience until you jump in and do it. I supply taught at elementary schools for a couple months before inquiring to a few labs for Master’s programs. I met with a plant ecology and evolutionary biology lab regarding their work on the sand dunes in California. After about five (mildly overwhelming) hours of meeting everyone in the lab, I was offered the position the next morning, and I accepted the following week.
All of a sudden, I had a plan. I flew to California about 5 weeks after I accepted the position, and spent three months along the west coast working on the sand dunes next to the beach. All summer, I drove a minivan full of food, camping equipment, everything that four people needed for three months, and a good amount of sand along windy cliff-side roads along the Pacific Ocean. I also jumped off a cliff into a lake on top of an old volcano. I saw a rattlesnake, sea otters, elephant seals, sea lions, elk, a whale, a black widow spider, and all kinds of cool plants and insects. I went to Yosemite National Park and climbed a mountain. I slept on the ground in a tent almost every night for three months. I put out several metaphorical fires, and a few real ones. I made four amazing friends.
Upon returning to school in September, I have learned so much about my study topic, academia, science, and plants in general. I have made many wonderful friends with my fellow biology graduate students. I’ve moved to a new city and found some amazing places there. I got to TA a course, and am already excitedly planning my next summer of fieldwork on the dunes.
I’ve done so many amazing, and a few less-than-amazing, things since finishing up my undergrad a year ago. For those other Leaders who are, or are soon to be, in a similar position, I encourage you to jump! It has certainly paid off ten-fold for me.