The Three Most Important Things I’ve Learned in Thirty Eight Years

Mandy reflects on aspirations, precipitation and why a background in fast food makes your lab work more efficient.

(Yup, it’s my birthday and I’ve waxed philosophical.)

3.  You don’t have to be a school teacher.  Bear with me, here.  I greatly appreciate teachers.  A lot of my friends are teachers.  As a matter of fact, a disproportionate amount of my female friends are teachers and I think I know why.

Growing up, I listened to the men in my family brag that my paternal grandmother, who spent her early years in very rural Kentucky, was so smart that she graduated the eighth grade and “that was really something for a woman in those days.”  My mother and most of her friends never finished high school.  They married in their sophomore or junior year of high school and started having kids while their husbands worked in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana.  I, myself, left high school my senior year, pregnant with my oldest child.

I remember, very vividly, every time someone said to me “You’re so smart.  You should be a school teacher.”  Nobody was actively or overtly trying to dissuade me from STEM related fields (bless their hearts).  That was simply a scenario that was outside of their frame of reference.

But guess what?  As much as I feel that society’s very foundation rests on the shoulders of our teachers, I am much, much happier up to my elbows in E. coli than I would be in front of a classroom.  I’ve begun telling every little girl I meet “You’re so smart.  You could be an astronaut, or a teacher, or a doctor, or a chef, or an Olympic athlete, or a scientist, or a…”


2.   It’s actually kind of a good thing that I worked in fast food until I was twenty six years old.  I have to admit, up until about a week ago, I spent a lot of time shaking my head at some of the foolish life decisions I made in my late teens and early twenties.  Some of those decisions led to my having children at an early age and no job skills with which to support them.  Hence, the fast food gigs.  But let me tell you what, the skills I picked up there turned in to a blessing this past week.

Our class was just decimated by the “Holy-Cow-I’m-Dying-Kill-Me-Now” flu (Yes, that’s its scientific name.  Trust me, I’m going to school to be a scientist.  I know this kind of stuff).  This led to multiple projects going on at once with people hopping from one team to the next, as any given person may or may not have been in class when teams were assigned for any particular project.  This, in turn, culminated in one sad, sorry day where two of the four teams only had one person present and two projects going on.  Our team (miraculously) had all four people present so I started hopping from team to team, organizing a kind of assembly-line approach (Believe me folks, assays ain’t got nothing on a bus load of victorious Little Leaguers looking for burgers).  Two of my classmates pitched in and helped get things rolling.  We were hustling and wound up staying about a half hour late, but every one’s work got completed.

As much as it used to irk me that I’d “wasted” eight years of my life working fast food, this past week I discovered that because of that work, I’m pretty efficient.  I mean, really, really efficient.  I will ruthlessly squeeze every last minute of productivity out of an hour.  And that’s a way better way of looking at my career path before returning to school than shaking my head at it.


1.   DNA is precipitated out of solution in the presence of non-polar solvents.  I know this little bit of information is old hat to most of the people who are reading this blog, but I will never forget the first time I held genetic material in my hand.  

I am amazed (to paraphrase one of my favorite instructors) that the physical laws governing our universe has not only produced matter but caused it to coalesce in such a way that it comprehends itself.  And we, the products of that coalescence, have in turn learned to navigate those laws in such a way that we can isolate and manipulate the vehicles of that comprehension.

I am excited every day of my life to get into that lab and see what else the universe has to offer me.

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Madison Area Technical College


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